Why thin clients and zero clients haven’t lived up to the "last PC you’ll ever buy" hype

Thin Client opinion articles are always very well read (I have written quite a few in the past) and this one by industry veteran Shawn Bass is no different. Check it out.

If you've been around the SBC / VDI industry for any length of time, you should know all about thin clients. Thin clients were the devices that were going to usher in the end of the PC industry as we know it. The benefits of a thin client over a full-fledged PC are numerous (in principle), including:

Less moving parts = less component failures

Not having a spinning hard disk is one major reason why thin clients should have a longer life. If you look at the failure rates among PC components, hard disks rank as one of the highest failure rates among the components that make up a typical desktop PC. Look at this chart from a Carnegie Mellon University paper on the topic of component failures in PCs published in 2006:

Source: Parallel Data Laboratory - Carnegie Mellon University

While hard drive manufacturing practices have improved since 2006, the rate of failure vs other system components is still pretty much the same. Changing the spinning hard disk to an SSD drive may ultimately improve the reliability (though that is currently being debated as to whether or not it actually reduces failure rates) but it certainly won't help the cost of the PC devices. Thin client manufacturers must keep costs down in order to be competitive against a common PC that it's attempting to replace. By a thin client not having a hard disk means they have one less component that has a high failure rate and ultimately it means less power consumption as well.

Less Power Consumption

Typical thin client devices consume anywhere from 2-10 watts. With a typical PC systems consuming anywhere from 20-60 watts it's pretty clear why an organization would want to standardize on thin clients vs full blown PCs because power consumption translated to real cost savings. Now, in order to say that thin clients are more cost effective than PCs when looking at power consumption one must also compare the back end infrastructure power costs when calculating power savings, but in most cases you can still save power even with the back end infrastructure considered.


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