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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.