• June 26, 2024

Thin Client Computing: Benefits and Uses in Higher Education

Greg M. Smith
  • by Greg M. Smith

What if running the applications students and faculty require was possible through small, low-cost, low-maintenance computing devices? Or even the outdated PCs you already have that can’t natively run them? Thin computing, also called thin client computing, doesn’t require labs full of PCs creating heat and noise–and is fast becoming the go-to solution for higher education.

Moving to the Cloud

Flexibility in recent years has been paramount. Large computer labs on campus only work if people are on campus. Accessing the computer at your desk when not at your desk requires that the computer is powered on, accessible through the network, or brought home with you. Virtual computing changes the paradigm by moving your desktop experience from a physical location to the cloud.

Thin, Thick or Zero?

With your computer existing in the cloud, how do you do work? In a PC-based deployment, each device needs enough computing resources to accomplish any task necessary. Aside from an internet connection, your standard PC exists as its own entity and requires backing up, maintenance, and support.

When the cloud server becomes the computer, a range of clients can be used to interface with it. Thin, Thick, and Zero clients are commonly used to describe these options.

  • Thick clients are like your typical PC or laptop – self-contained computing devices.
  • Thin clients are smaller, have fewer internal components, generate less heat and noise, and primarily rely on your server resources to accomplish computing tasks. However, they can handle some local tasks independently.
  • Zero clients are like thin clients, but they don’t have any local resources and rely entirely on the server for computing.

The Beauty of Thin Client Computing

With virtual desktops living in the cloud, all a user needs is the ability to access it. That’s where thin clients come in. Plugged into the network with a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, the experience of ‘virtual computing’ is mainly indistinguishable to the user until they experience the freedom that logging into their virtual desktop from any deployed device provides.

While users can be anywhere they need to be, backend management of the deployment becomes more effortless still. Maintenance of the cloud server is routine. The support once needed to maintain labs full of PCs is greatly reduced. When firmware for thin clients needs updating, it can be scheduled and pushed to the devices. All user data remains in the cloud – it is never on the local device. There is no data loss if a thin client suffers a hardware failure. Just plug another one in and log in.

Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose

Thin client computing offers new life for older devices too. If you’ve got an army of PCs that can’t install Windows 11, repurposing software can convert them into access devices for your virtual desktops. They’ll function just like your thin clients, can be centrally updated in the same manner, and will allow you to get every bit of life out of that previous investment.

Benefits of Thin Computing in Higher Education

For education, thin computing provides a cost-effective way to give students access to all the materials they need. Here are a few of the advantages:

  • Budgetary benefits. Thin clients are inexpensive. They use minimal electricity, are quiet, and run cool, reducing air conditioning needs in labs and large workgroups. Repurposing software extends the life of existing tech.
  • Security Support. Thin clients don’t house any sensitive information, negating the need for disaster recovery mitigation and concerns around data safety if the device is compromised or stolen.
  • Simplified Maintenance. Thin clients require minimal effort from your IT staff—with few firmware updates. Everything about the user’s operating system, applications, and data is managed in the cloud.
  • Ease of Use. For administrators, faculty, and students, thin clients offer an easy-to-use solution to access the resources they need.

Putting Thin Clients to Work for Your Computer Lab

The big question is, how do you put thin clients to work in your institution?

You can use thin clients to give students access to their own VDI or AWS workspaces. Either permanent or temporary deployment solutions serve as a good choice if the user is working with a school-loaned device or their own machine.

While this approach works fine for individual students, the deployment stays tied to a specific user. This means it can’t be implemented in a shared computing environment such as a computer lab or library.

Propeller’s offerings customize the environment so that schools using thin client options have greater flexibility for their computer lab or other shared spaces. Students can use any of the thin clients in the shared space and access their own workspace. When the student moves to a different workstation, they can pick up where they left off.

If you’d like to learn more about putting thin clients to work for your school, contact us today.

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