Replacing Desktop PCs with Zero-Client Solutions

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

It doesn’t matter if you call it PC-over-IP, zero footprint PC, zero-client computing or just plain dumb terminal computing, the computing endpoint is undergoing a major change. Virtual desktop infrastructure from Wyse Technology, Pano Logic and Teradici may soon eliminate conventional PCs.

With zero-client computing, what’s old is new again. The whole idea is to move computing back to the data center and away from the desktop. A zero-client environment is often less expensive and easier to deploy and manage. Its trio of possibilities is not lost on solution providers and IT directors.

Further fueling the interest in zero-client solutions is the escalating costs of deploying and managing PCs, now estimated to be in the range of $4,000 to $6,000 per year, according to Gartner and IDC. Those same research companies estimate that a VDI (virtual desktop infrastructure) can save upwards of 70 percent over the support and maintenance costs of desktop PCs. Those are numbers that are sure to attract the attention of C-suite executives.

Quite a few companies are pitching their zero-client technologies, but many of those don’t really fall under the true definition of a "zero client," where there is no operating system, CPU and memory located at the endpoint. Simply put, a true zero-client device only connects a monitor and peripherals (mouse, keyboard, USB devices) back to a VDI or similar infrastructure in the data center. That definition is what separates zero clients from thin clients (which require local processing capabilities and operating systems). In fact, zero clients, thin clients and VDI are different technologies that can intertwine to create a desktop experience for the end user. Even so, virtualization (or VDI) is the key technology behind zero clients. Ideally, a zero-client endpoint will connect back to a virtual PC located on a blade server in the data center.

A few vendors are taking that very route to zero-client nirvana. Some names are familiar, such as Wyse Technology and Digi, while others are relative unknowns, such as Pano Logic, ClearCube and Teradici. Each of those vendors gives a unique spin to the zero-client PC and each has its own little name for the technologies and devices. Some require proprietary hardware at both the server and the client side, while the real innovators here reduce the hardware footprint on the server side as well as the client side, helping to keep costs down and integration simpler.

Wyse, Pano Logic and Teradici offer true zero-client solutions, while Digi and ClearCube offer more of a thin client (or ultra thin-client solution). In other words, VNC- or RDP-equipped PCs (or blades) are deployed in the back room and those products work more along the lines of a hosted PC solution and not so much as a VDI solution.

For those looking to investigate the pairing of zero client with VDI, a closer look at Wyse, Pano Logic and Teradici is in order.

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com