Channel Insider's Guide to Zero Client Virtualization

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Print this article Print

Virtualization has changed the cost structure of the data center, and now it can change the cost center of managing a fleet of end-user clients. Here’s a look at the promise of zero client technologies, a list of the players, and how they can make a difference for IT organizations.

Virtualization is changing how enterprises work. The technology has impacted storage, servers and now the desktop. Today many enterprise IT departments are extending the power of virtualization by turning to Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions. When properly implemented, VDI moves the desktop operating system into the datacenter, turning the end point into little more than a terminal.

Some VDI solutions work with thin client applications, while others work via a web browser. Either way, a PC is still required to access the virtualized desktop in the datacenter. However, zero client technology is changing the way IT managers view end points. What’s more, zero client solutions create significant opportunities for solution providers looking to grab enterprise level clients, as well as reengineer SMB desktop services.

What is a Zero Client?

Zero client technology is the latest development in reduced footprint computing. Similar to a thin client, a zero client moves the computing power back to the data center, leaving little more than a keyboard and monitor at a user’s desk. However, traditional thin clients require some local processing power and locally installed software and that is where the distinction between a zero client and thin client lies.
The latest zero client solutions eliminate the need for locally installed software and connect directly to PCs (virtual or physical) back in the data center, usually over an Ethernet connection.

Nevertheless, the definition of a zero client device is still open to some interpretation. For example, vendor Pano Logic claims that a true zero client device has no operating system or processor. On the company’s website, Pano explains that it calls its devices "zero clients" because, unlike traditional thin clients, "they have no CPU, no memory, no operating system, no drivers, no software and no moving parts. They simply serve to connect peripheral input-output devices -- a keyboard, mouse, VGA display, and audio output -- along with other USB peripherals to a virtualized Microsoft Windows desktop operating system running on a server in the data center."

While that definition seems very specific, the industry has accepted that other devices still fall under the realm of zero clients – devices that have a small local OS and some processing power, mostly for connectivity issues, security and management.

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