Mobile thin clients provide the productivity benefits of mobility plus tighter control over enterprise data.

The rise of the mobile workforce began at the grass-roots level, as employees started using their personal mobile devices for work-related tasks. Organizations appreciated the productivity boost gained when employees could work from virtually any location. However, IT departments worried about the risk of malware and the loss of sensitive information.

Bring-your-own-device (BYOD) programs attempted to allay these concerns, with policies, procedures and management tools aimed at securing mobile devices and protecting applications and data. They have only been nominally successful. A recent IDC survey found that security issues and cost overruns are persistent problems even as organizations plan to increase their spending on mobility.

These challenges are prompting organizations to consider alternatives to BYOD. Nearly three-quarters of U.S. enterprises offer a choose-your-own-device (CYOD) program, or plan to do so in the coming year. CYOD allows employees to select from a limited menu of approved devices that have been preconfigured with security controls. The employee buys the device but the company retains legal rights to the data. In a third model called COPE (corporate owned, personally enabled), the company supplies employees with devices that can be used for personal as well as business functions.

“None of these deployment options is completely satisfactory,” said Ariel Valdes, Data Center Solutions Architect, ProSys. “While CYOD and COPE give organizations greater control over the security of the device, data is still going outside the firewall and employees are potentially connecting to insecure networks. This often creates an unacceptable level of risk, particularly in highly regulated industries.

“That’s why mobile thin clients are an increasingly attractive alternative to smartphones and tablets. They allow workers to access virtual desktops from any location while tightly restricting other uses.”

Old Concept, New Approach

Thin clients have been around for decades, offering an alternative to full-blown PCs for users who don’t need local processing power. Lightweight computers that emphasize network access and graphics processing, thin clients can dramatically reduce desktop management costs while increasing security and data protection.

“Desktop PCs require a lot of care and feeding, including hardware and software updates, security patches and backups,” said Valdes. “Thin clients require none of those things, so they have a much lower cost of ownership — studies have shown that thin clients can reduce desktop support costs by as much as 80 percent compared to ‘fat client’ PCs. Security is enhanced because users can’t make configuration changes or inadvertently introduce security threats.

“Older thin clients had somewhat limited uses, but newer offerings have the processing power to support graphics-intensive applications and deliver a great user experience. Organizations are also taking a fresh look at thin clients as they face the need to upgrade their Windows 7 PCs.”

Originally, thin clients were conceived as an alternative to the “dumb terminals” used to access applications on mainframes. Today, they’re more commonly associated with virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), which allows organizations to host desktop environments within the data center. They are also increasingly used to access cloud-based applications and services.

“Mobile thin clients put these features and benefits in a highly portable form factor,” said Valdes. “The concept is not new — for years, vendors have offered mobile thin clients that were essentially stripped-down laptops. But as mobile devices have become lighter and more powerful, so have mobile thin clients, with numerous options now available to support a wide range of use cases.”

Power and Portability

Dell recently announced its redesigned mobile thin client portfolio, including the Dell Latitude E7270 and Latitude 3460. The solutions integrate the manageability, performance and security of Wyse thin clients with the enterprise-class capabilities of Dell’s Latitude laptops and ultrabooks.

The Dell Latitude E7270 is designed to meet the exacting needs of power users, with an Intel 6th Generation Core i5 processor, four-cell battery and 12.5-inch Full HD (1920 x 1080) antiglare display. The Latitude 3460 provides an enterprise-class mobile experience for a broad range of use cases, with an Intel Celeron 3215U processor and a 14-inch HD (1366 x 768) antiglare display. Both feature a wide range of connectivity options and ports, including USB 3.0, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet, and WI-Fi and Bluetooth options. They also provide extended battery life for all-day productivity.

“Dell’s new mobile thin clients are based upon Windows Embedded Standard 7 64-bit for a familiar local Windows experience,” Valdes said. “They support all VDI protocols, and can connect to all of the major brokers including Citrix XenDesktop, Microsoft Hyper-V and VMware Horizon. They are also easy to deploy and manage, with flexible configuration and management via Wyse Device Manager or Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager. IT managers can easily scale administration from just a few to tens of thousands of mobile thin clients to meet growing user demand.”

Mobile thin clients are ideal for a range of industries including finance, healthcare, government, manufacturing, and energy and exploration. They enable remote and mobile workers to securely access applications and data, while ensuring the security, manageability and centralized control provided by a virtual desktop environment.