Monday, February 04, 2008

Thin Versus Fat Clients

Last class we had a discussion on the relevancy of desktop computers. Will desktop computers be obsolete in the near future?

A thin client is a bare-bones computer that relies on a central server for data processing. Desktops, or fat clients, perform data processing locally. For a business the benefits of a thin client versus a fat client setup are quite numerous. Primarily, a thin client setup is cheaper to use since thin clients require cheaper hardware, less power and, due to all processing occurring on a central server, thin clients require less administrative attention.

In an office using thin clients an application update occurs in one place: on the server, and all of the client users are upgraded with out any hassle at all. If a thin client fails it is inexpensive enough to simply throw away and replace with a new one. The user simply logs into the system on the replacement client and can resume work.

As we discussed last class, applications like Google Docs are already helping thin clients become a reality. If all a user is doing is loading up an internet browser, is there a reason for a powerful desktop computer? If all you are doing is updating a spreadsheet or working with email, probably not. I do not believe that desktop computers will ever become obsolete as there will always be a need for processor intensive activities, but I do believe that desktop computers will become a lot less common, at least as far as businesses are concerned.


TJGodel said...

Thin or fat client debate has evolved beyond choose one or the other with a middle ground solution that is on the horizon. Virtualization is the future of desktop computing. Virtualization can gives the benefit of both. Client software and configuration can live on the server and be loaded down to a client computer when needed, which means your desktop can be available anywhere and it helps lower cost by providing a better way for IT to manage desktops from a central point. Moore's law states that computer processors get faster and cheaper. The cost difference between thin and fat client isn't much. Virtualization is the future. Look at Thinstall ( )as example of the future of computing.

Paul Swenson said...

From a management perspective, I love the idea of stateless thin clients. For example, the Sun Ray looks like an ideal platform. The latest model supports dual DVI monitors, audio, USB key drives, smart card-based authentication, at a very minimal cost. Get four beefy parallel servers connected to drive the clients, and you're in business. They are mostly useful in computer labs as of know (where you would have a competent IT guy to manage things), but what if consumers could buy four of these and hook them up in their house to a drop-in embedded box that came preconfigured from the factory to drive these units wirelessly, and everything just seamlessly worked? Until we are there, thin clients will remain an option for academia, the savvy home sysadmin, enterprise and government. But maybe consumers don't even need them (laptops for all perhaps?)

TJGodel said...

As I said in my previous posting. computing cost keeps getting cheaper and cheaper, which has almost destroyed the value of "beefy parallel servers" that Sun and other produce, cheap "commodity" boxes are the choice of many. These "cheap boxes" are very powerful so very few customers buy big boxes, because you can cluster a few cheap boxes and save a lot of money. Now on another scale you have Google with thousands of commodity boxes, they are not in boxes only the motherboard is used, using their file system and programs. Failure of some is expected and does not effect the system. Virtualization and cloud computing (Google/IBM) seem to be the wave of the future.