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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.