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What Everyone Ought To Know About Fat Clients and Thin Clients

Peter Springfield

Pre-Sales Consultant

Published 07th March 2017 | Updated 10th August 2020

What’s the difference between fat clients and thin clients?

The answer has very little to do with weight. Instead, the two provide businesses with different approaches to cloud computing.

Here’s how they differ.

Fat Clients (AKA PCs)

A normal PC has its own operating system (Windows 7, Windows 10, Linux etc.) which needs configuration as well as on-going support and software updates.

When plugged in and turned on, fat clients can be used to launch programs including MS Office, internet browsers, or the Remote Desktop Connection program for cloud.

To access cloud, the PC must first boot up, load the log in settings, then run the cloud program and finally prompt the user to log into the cloud.

If your internet connection is down or the cloud itself is unavailable, the PC can still be used to a limited degree if any programs are installed.

PCs generally cost around £300-£600 depending on the quality and speed of components.

  • Pros: if the internet or cloud is unavailable, users can still work off a USB stick, local file or external hard drive.
  • Cons: users need to log in twice to get through to cloud, they might accidentally save things on the desktop instead of the cloud, and cost per PC is high.

 

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Thin Clients (AKA lightweight computers)

In the case of thin clients, the actual device is a lot smaller than a PC (imagine stacking six DVD covers on top of each other for a general idea).

A thin client device can be plugged directly into a network, screen, keyboard and mouse just like a normal PC – only it uses much less electricity!

The biggest differences between fat and thin clients lie with the latter’s capabilities.

On its own, it is completely useless: there is no hard-drive or operating system installed, eliminating its capacity to store programmes. On the flip side, there is no interface to log into, which also means that there is no support or maintenance ever required!

Thin clients come into their own when configured to connect to cloud servers. They simply turn on, boot up in seconds and do not require an initial login. The first thing you see upon boot-up is your cloud log in. There is also no local profile, so any user can sit at any thin client for quick access to the cloud portal.

Thin clients generally cost around £160-£250 per unit, again depending on quality, speed or ability.

  • Pros: low cost per device, no support required since there’s no operating system, single log in to get to cloud and no local data to worry about!
  • Cons: useless without all network and cloud services online and running, there is no “off cloud” capacity.

 

Issues to consider when choosing a client solution

In the context of your business, there are a few other issues to consider when deciding between fat and thin clients:

  • It is important to have clear understanding of user needs across the whole of the business. For example, developers or graphic designers may still require powerful fat client computers. It is possible to provide graphics or intensive computing power via thin clients, but this usually just pushes the cost back to the cloud environment.
  • A thin client “agent” can be deployed on existing fat client systems realising the benefits of a cloud solution, but maintenance and support costs for the fat client computer still need to be acknowledged. Alternatively, you could put a solid migration plan in place, allowing desktop computers to simply replace thin clients as they fall off of support.
  • Thin clients are not dependent on a single cloud technology. It’s possible to choose from a range of cloud or shared resource solutions from various vendors which includes Microsoft, Citrix, VMware and AWS.
  • Thin clients in conjunction with the right cloud service can help to drive down operational costs by utilising shared resources in a public or private cloud. A good visualisation of this saving is to consider that fat client PCs are still consuming the costs of hardware maintenance, licensing and depreciation even when unused such as when individuals are absent or on holiday.
  • Other than minimum system requirements of CPU, disk capacity and memory, fat client PCs will normally run any software that is purchased for the needs of the business. A thin client by comparison, will require Line of Business (LoB) applications to be “packaged” by the cloud environment. The vast majority of common applications are already supported by the vendors mentioned above, but applications specific to a business require testing for thin client deployment and this should be a major consideration before adopting a widespread thin client approach.
  • For businesses considering the emerging Windows Virtual Desktop technology (WVD) within the Microsoft Azure cloud, thin clients provide a flexible and cost effective end-user solution.

In short, PCs are great for general all-purpose computing or specific user requirements, and are useful even without a network or cloud connection. On the other hand, if your users simply need access to cloud-based applications and technologies, thin clients can provide a more flexible, cost-effective solution.

Mid-Market-Cloud-Adoption-1

 

Guide to Successfully Migrating to the Cloud

Our recent research on mid-market IT priorities shows that almost all organisations now have some element of their IT operations in the cloud.

As organisations look to accelerate their
journey to the cloud, there are a series
of practical considerations that can help
answer those questions about their next
cloud steps.

Download the guide