We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using thin clients or traditional PCs for a virtual desktop or flexible computing solution. There are a broad range of factors including capability, power consumption, cost, and footprint that can be considered when deciding what to use as a client for connecting to virtualized desktops.


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Virtualization Frontier blog: Why Servergeeks Should Care About Desktops

Chat Transcript

DELL-ToddM Anybody want to talk about thin clients?
DELL-ScottH I’m on a thin client!
DELL-ToddM That's actually a good discussion point; is the Inspiron Mini 9 a thin client?
stevemarfisi joined.
DELL-ToddM No moving parts
DELL-ToddM Welcome Steve
DELL-ScottH Uses the same stuff as FX160
DELL-ScottH Hello steve
stevemarfisi Hi!
DELL-ToddM The software loaded is different
DELL-ToddM I've always thought of thin clients as centrally managed and dependent on servers in some way
ramseyg joined.
DELL-ToddM The Mini 9 can just run stuff locally
DELL-ToddM Hey Greg!
DELL-ScottH Hey Greg
ramseyg Hello
DELL-ToddM I was afraid that a disucssion of client "stuff" might not be very popular on a server dominated site
ramseyg If I'm able to join a chat on a patch Tuesday, that's a good sign :)
ramseyg :) Always ready to learn something new
DELL-ToddM Very good indeed
DELL-ScottH Yup, looks like we should stick to servers, SANs and virtualization
KevinMurray joined.
DELL-ToddM Welcome Kevin. We are still kind of waiting for people to join
DELL-ToddM Haven't started the main discussion yet
KevinMurray Okay, thanks.
DELL-ToddM Maybe just wait another minute or two
DELL-ToddM Hey Dave is in the lab!
DELL-ScottH Hey Dave! It was Todd’s idea to blow your machines away...I swear!
DELL-ToddM Welcome to the Dell TechCenter Tuesday Chat
DELL-ToddM (This is the offical start :) )
DELL-ToddM Today's topic is thin client versus PC
shanfont joined.
DELL-ToddM The idea is to have a discussion about why you might use either one
DELL-ScottH Hello shanfont
shanfont Hello, a little late. Did I miss any discussions yet?
DELL-ScottH Use Action, Recent Room History to catch up, but we just started
DELL-ToddM Just getting started
shanfont Okay
DELL-ToddM The last two weeks we have discussed virtual desktops or VDI
DELL-ToddM So this week I wanted to give a little bit of attention to the client side of that solution
DELL-ToddM I sense something good coming from Steve
stevemarfisi I assume (by definition)—for PCs—that we are talking about “managed” PCs, whether by Altiris, Landesk, Microsoft MOM, etc.
stevemarfisi A opposed to non-managed PCs
stevemarfisi Think the key here is that a sense of control/management can be had for both
stevemarfisi In which case, which is easier/better and for what case scenarios?
DELL-ToddM The PC could be managed; I think that is another dimension
DELL-ToddM If you are comparing managed PCs versus thin clients, you can actually make them very similar depending on what level of management you are using
stevemarfisi Is it? If both are managed, then we take out the argument for manageability for thin clients
DELL-ToddM Manageability at the software layer—yes. There is still the hardware management
stevemarfisi And thus limit—if one wants to—the discussion as to where the usage model is appropriate
DELL-ToddM Thin clients, with no moving parts, are easier to manage and maintain
DELL-ToddM They should last longer, have fewer failures
stevemarfisi Are they?
stevemarfisi Consider your “streamed” solutions by the likes of Citrix, Ardence, and others
stevemarfisi Sure, thin clients, no moving parts, no disks
stevemarfisi Might last longer, but are they appropriate for every situation?
DELL-ToddM I agree that if you use the streamed desktop-type approach, then PCs and thin clients become very similar. You could even remove the disk from the PC
DELL-ToddM If you have a PC with a local disk and a Windows OS, then it is quite different
stevemarfisi You can keep the local disk for paging/caching
DELL-ToddM The advantage of using a "regular" PC with XP is that everybody already has them
stevemarfisi And, in some cases, can be bought for less than the price of a thin client
DELL-ToddM There isn't any additional hardware cost to use existing PCs as clients for virtual desktops
stevemarfisi But they can be so much more than virtual desktops, and you still have to manage the OS hosting that RDP client
DELL-ToddM I think that using existing PCs is a good place to start, but to really get a lot of the benefits of centralized computing you need simpler clients that are easier to manage
DELL-ToddM Once users see that they can get access to their applications remotely and don't need the PC, then it might be easier to get a thin client deployed
stevemarfisi But most Tier 1 PCs these days are fully manageable
DELL-ToddM And the implementers in the data center get a chance to try things out with their solution on the server side
DELL-ToddM What does Tier 1 PCs being fully manageable mean? I don't follow
shanfont left.
DELL-ToddM Remember, I'm really a server guy so you might have to go slowly with me :)
stevemarfisi Any Dell (or IBM or HC) PC out of the box is manageable by the software you already provide, i.e. your OEM version of Altiris, for example
stevemarfisi Manageable, easy to install OS from bare metal, push out updates/patching, etc.
stevemarfisi I smell coffee; back in 25 seconds
DELL-ToddM Okay, that makes sense, but I would think that a streamlined image on a thin client would be even easier to manage
DELL-ToddM The hang-up with thin clients—which you touched on earlier—is their flexibility
DELL-ToddM A PC is more flexible and can be used in more ways than a thin client
ramseyg From my experience at other companies that have investigated thin clients, it's tough to go all the way, and if you make it to, say a 60/40 thin client/thick client, well, that's great, but now I (probably) have to use two management tools to manage them
DELL-ToddM Thin clients work really well for a segment of users, like call centers, but not everybody
stevemarfisi Yes, a PC is (more flexible); it can act like a thin client if needed—it can't go the other way around
DELL-ToddM Proliferation of management consoles and tools would have to be worth the gain in management for the thin clients
DELL-ToddM Another aspect that comes up is power consumption
DELL-ToddM Thin clients will typically consume much less power than a PC
DELL-ToddM In large numbers this can add up to some significant amount of power savings
DELL-ToddM Of course the additional servers and storage in the data center required to support the thin clients would need to be included in the power
stevemarfisi Anyone done the math on that? Yet to see a good Web site on that
stevemarfisi Necessary for comparing against the $$ gains in lesser costs in manageability
DELL-ToddM I looked into it a little bit last week; I want to put together a blog post
DELL-ToddM Not sure how it works out
stevemarfisi Be interested to see what you found
DELL-ToddM The new Opti's don't consume very much power, so it may be very close
DELL-ToddM Anybody else have an angle on this comparison they want to discuss?
DELL-ToddM At VMworld they had a lot of discussion and a few demos of future stuff that would enable desktop virtual machines to work in new ways
DELL-ToddM Might need more processing power to "check out" a VM and run it locally than a thin client could provide
stevemarfisi If you have decent profile management in place, might not need a thin client for that. This is coming, for example, with Citrix's acquisition of Sepago
DELL-ToddM Do you have a brief description of what the Sepago technology does? Maybe a link as well?
stevemarfisi Something like that
ramseyg Yes, I have a gift
stevemarfisi One more thing on power requirements for thin client versus PC—this might be negligible, but…
stevemarfisi Consider the server power required for x # of thin clients versus a managed PC
stevemarfisi I've seen (and measured myself) where one server can manage/host 200+ managed PCs being streamed from it
stevemarfisi That same server can handle how many thin clients? A lot less...because of the processing being moved to the server
DELL-ToddM That's a good point
DELL-ToddM I think that it depends a lot on what solution you have chosen for the PCs. Clearly the streamed desktop approach supports a large number of systems per server
ramseyg But also requires a much larger pipe to stream that image, correct?
stevemarfisi Right, as you might have guessed, I am all for streaming
DELL-ToddM If you were going to use virtual desktops on both then it would be the same on both sides for the servers
stevemarfisi Bandwidth requirement are heaviest at boot, but negligible after that for PCs that are being streamed
DELL-ToddM The bandwidth with the streaming from Citrix (Ardence) is minimized because they use multicasting
stevemarfisi That’s only at boot, and only if they start within a certain time window
stevemarfisi Multicast not there after boot
DELL-ToddM Right, but that's when you would need it most
ramseyg Okay, .multi definitely helps; learned something new with Ardence. :)
stevemarfisi And it only works on a shared image/common image
DELL-ToddM I think that the streaming approach is strongest if using a single or a few images
stevemarfisi Otherwise, if not multicast, bandwidth needed for XP boot to GUI login prompt = approx. 75 MB
DELL-ToddM It's definately not something you would want to do over dialup :)
ramseyg Yes, I think it would be difficult with several images unless of course they've figured out a way to magically inject security patches
stevemarfisi Images can be mounted offline, modified/patched, and then dismounted
ramseyg Yes, that sounds easy for one or two but not for 20, IMHO
stevemarfisi And that process can be batched to handle that 20
DELL-ToddM You can script the image update process? Can you give brief descriptioin of how that is done?
stevemarfisi I'm gonna sound like an Ardence commercial if I keep going
ramseyg (Pprobably getting a bit off topic) and distributing those newly updated images globally? Can I send those to my remote sites using some kind of binary differencing?
stevemarfisi Select x # of images, select batch update, assign script, and run
DELL-ToddM It's okay to go off topic at this point; I think we beat the thin versus PC thing pretty well
stevemarfisi Binary differencing sounds cool, though I do not think that is there yet
DELL-ToddM Cool, I didn't know you could do that; how do you create the script?
stevemarfisi Any batch/cmd/wscript/vbscript
stevemarfisi Once mounted, the images file system is exposed as if on a local drive
DELL-ToddM Steve, to be clear, what we are talking about when we talk about Ardence—isn't it now called something else by Citrix?
DELL-ToddM I can't think of the product name now
stevemarfisi Yes, Citirix Provisioning Server or PVS for short
stevemarfisi Sorry for that
ramseyg So the file system is exposed as a local drive; how do I patch that? How do I apply the latest acrobat reader patch, or the XML patch released today by Ms?
stevemarfisi Different ways, I suppose to do offline patching. Some products can examine the process and then create a single .exe for execution—kind of like the old sysdiff
stevemarfisi This is not my expertise, that of offline patching
ramseyg Okay, then that doesn't sound like a batch process to me, at least not without a bunch of other engineering (btw, I should add the disclaimer: I work for Dell)
DELL-ToddM We know who you are! :)
DELL-ToddM Kevin, any questions? You've been quiet, which is okay
stevemarfisi It does exist, and there are products out there that do this—I use one at my kids’ school—some open source thing; forget the name, but it works!
modeler joined.
stevemarfisi Hey guys, I gotta go in five minutes or so
DELL-ToddM I've gotta run too
DELL-ToddM Welcome modeler, we are actually just reaching the end of the hour
modeler Hi, just saw this on Twitter. Sorry I missed it...will there be a transcript?
ramseyg Thanks for all the info; I learned a bit today—great discussion
DELL-ToddM You can read the whole chat: Action, Recent Room History
DELL-ToddM The transcript will be posted tomorrow on the page you used to get to the chat
modeler Great! Thank you I'll grab a bit now, and look for the whole thing tomorrow. Thanks again
DELL-ToddM Thanks everybody. Next week I'm working on an MD3000i–themed chat
DELL-ToddM Or maybe a more broad iSCSI theme
DELL-ToddM Later