Thin client computing

Whilst here in Brazil, I took the opportunity to provide some input for a local company looking to implement a thin client environment in place of their existing traditional desktop user network. Personally I think thin client environments are a great idea: you immediately mitigate lots of risk to data, gain complete control over what resources individuals have access to, reduce risks of malware, potentially save lots of money, and it’s greener too! Some might say it’s a no-brainer. So why don’t we all do it?

The discussion around that question would probably fast become a religious debate between the thin client believers and the fat client agnostics. Fair enough, we like to be in control of our desktops (or at least feel that we have some control) and there is a strong mindset opposition to thin client computing from those who think it represents too restrictive an environment to possibly be productive. So, I thought I’d review some of the supposed security benefits:

– Thin clients are practically immune from malware as nothing can be installed on the client

– You know where all your data is because it can only be on the server. Thin clients, therefore, present much reduced risk of data theft because the users’ data is stored centrally so the actual device is of no use once disconnected from the network.

– Thin clients provide a secure environment for remote working because users access data over an encrypted network and are treated no differently from if there were located locally

– Data backup and recovery services are all simply managed at the server as part of the overall enterprise backup service.

– Thin clients can be ‘locked down’ more effectively than PCs and they don’t allow for non-standard configuration on the desktop. No more having to mess around with GPOs .

There are plenty of other cited advantages, including reliability and support. On the downside, if the server goes down then nobody can work. Not all of your propietary software will work. Timing of server patches and updates needs to be managed to prevent disruption to users. Fat clients probably provide better remote functionality for multi-media browsing. Overall though, if the first priorities are productivity, control, and security then thin clients are a good option.

Who’s up for the debate?