Thick, Thin, or Zero Clients?

Ever since the PC first came into offices, managers have been trying to find a universal solution to the question of type of computers that their staff should be using. Within the industry, the three categories of clients available are known as thick, thin, and zero. Every organization should think carefully about which category suits their needs best and will make their staff most productive whilst remaining secure.

Thick clients (a.k.a. “rich” or “fat”) clients are standard PCs, desktops or laptops, which can work to a large extent without needing to be connected to a server, i.e., they have their own operating system, storage capacity and contain their own programs. These devices generally offer superior multimedia experiences, and in addition they can be used when Internet access is down or otherwise unavailable.

With thin clients (e.g., smart phones, tablets, and some desktops) all applications and data are held on a central server accessed by the user. More frequently, even desktop PCs are becoming thin clients, not actually saving data or applications at the point of use.

Zero clients (a.k.a. “ultra-thin” clients) are clients that have absolutely no storage available, not even to save user configurations, but are simply a means of accessing servers or cloud resources; effectively, they are simply terminals displaying data to the user from servers elsewhere.

Each of these categories of clients has its advantages and drawbacks. The thinner the client, generally the cheaper, safer and easier to manage they are. They frequently also boast a longer lifespan than thick clients. Nevertheless, thick clients offer greater functionality, allow for off-line working, and (particularly important in these times) can be much more useful for those working at home. Thin clients are most useful for workplace scenarios where the worker is almost always in the same place, for example in a call centre or on a financial trading floor.

Zero clients can be useful for those who tend to move around a lot and need access to data without necessarily needing storage capacity. Thick clients still have their place for those who need high levels of processing power at their fingertips, for example graphic designers using two or three large high-resolution screens.

Rather than simply accepting the status quo, business owners and IT managers should be carefully examining the needs of their employees and selecting the mix of clients that will allow for optimal economy, security, and efficiency.