Choosing between ‘Thin vs Zero’ Clients for Virtual Desktop Computing


Choosing between thin or zero clients for virtual desktop computing is never an easy decision especially with the overwhelming number of choices in the market. Making a decision between these two endpoint solutions takes time and technical deliberation especially for businesses which require more clarity on their differences. This is understandable considering how thin and zero client solutions are similar in many ways.

What exactly are thin clients and zero clients? To begin with, both are compact, stateless computing endpoint devices which offload enterprise workloads to backend servers. Among other benefits, thin and zero clients reduce costs, enhance data security, involve minimum maintenance, are energy efficient, easy to install and replace.

So, how can you choose between thin or zero client solutions as you research and further understand the requirements of different VDI technologies?  

As we shall see, both thin and zero clients are vastly different in terms of the efficiencies they boast. Let’s examine the following key elements in a VDI project plan so that you can choose the best thin or zero client to match your business needs.

Sizing and Capacity Planning

Getting started with sizing and capacity planning is absolutely crucial for a successful VDI deployment. There are several key factors to consider:

  1. What is the current and desired computer usage of your staff?
  2. From an IT perspective, what levels of workloads do your users expect to manage with a specific thin or zero client solution?
  3. Which resources can users draw on from a thin or zero client VDI endpoint?
  4. What are the graphic requirements of your users?

All these considerations are important especially in circumstances where several users launch multiple VDI sessions per VM. The important thing is to ensure optimal LAN traffic and manage maximum performance in such use cases. For example, in power user environments, use a multimedia capable thin or zero client solution to enable VDI for delivering a VM with powerful software and storage functions.

In short, when planning for size and capacity in VDI, thin clients are suitable because:

  •         They save energy costs.
  •         They require minimum maintenance because these client devices typically have limited components and no moving parts.
  •         They promote centralized control and administration where IT can easily oversee desktops, software access and upgrades. This is particularly important if businesses manage remote teams in multiple office locations.
  •         They simplify the budgeting, planning and forecasting process. Since data processing and storage is performed centrally in thin client deployments, IT can easily measure current activity and plan accordingly for accommodating future users.  

Zero clients are effective in scenarios where:

  •         IT requires the fastest possible boot-up. As display and decoding processes occur within a dedicated hardware in zero client environments, the endpoints boot up rapidly and are resistant to potential viruses. This also minimizes overall device downtime and accelerates individual productivity which is critical for success.
  •         Systems administrators demand quick and easy endpoint configuration. Zero client solutions are ideal because their configuration is even faster and simpler as compared to thin clients. This especially works well in workspaces with a large number of users.
  •         Software updates for zero clients are few and far between.
  •         Businesses wish to eliminate local storage and OS. The backend server provisions applications which limits overall IT involvement, reduces endpoint maintenance and provides the highest possible graphics efficiencies.
  •         Large enterprises necessitate airtight security requirements and optimal power consumption standards.

Types of Users

Considering the wide variety of VDI endpoints to choose from, matching the perfect thin or zero client solution to end user application needs is important for desktop virtualization success.

Begin by narrowing down your staff to three main groups; task users, knowledge workers and power users. All three user categories have different access rights and they demand different levels of IT functionality.

Firstly, administrators can assign a standard thin or zero client solution to task users. This is because these users generally run basic operational applications with lightweight browser support and entry-level system and device capabilities. For instance, ClearCube’s C3Pi Raspberry Pi 3 thin client is the best fit for task workers not only in terms of fulfilling their performance requirements at a basic level. This cost competitive endpoint device is also perfect for single monitor configurations in VMware Horizon and other virtual desktop computing deployments.

Knowledge workers often acquire, analyze and manage large-scale information databases due to which their computer usage is relatively higher. They also work with multiple monitors and require mid-level multimedia competencies. For this group, choose thin and zero clients which provision moderate computer usage and boast multi-monitor features. An example is ClearCube’s CD8811 thin client which comes with dual displays and Intel® HD graphics. This endpoint promises powerful multimedia capabilities and PC-like end UX in the knowledge user community.

Lastly, power users manage massive workloads for which they demand superior video optimization, rich graphics, fast processing speeds and sophisticated media efficiencies. These include Flash/HTML5, high resolution 3D, CAD support and triple or quad monitor displays.

ClearCube offers a comprehensive range of PCoIP and Specialty zero clients to address the needs of power users who require uncompromised computing performance and top quality graphics in different fields. Examples are designers and engineers who run 3D/CAD/CAM/ simulation and geospatial applications to handle complex workloads.

Ultimately, it all comes down to end user expertise. How you set up and manage user profiles according to the type of work they do allow you to deliver specialized applications accordingly. This is crucial for determining which thin or zero client VDI endpoint best suits their needs as both have different computational capacities and capabilities.

Thin and Zero Client Security for VDI

Companies expect the same standard of secure VDI technologies in virtual desktop computing as they would from physical desktops. Hence, administrators must ensure that systems remain timely and responsive in virtualized environments without creating vulnerabilities that could put important information at stake.

Thin clients are ideal for catering to an organization’s growing security requirements as IT can secure data centrally without the burden of managing complex infrastructure. These endpoints offer maximum security because they do not store data. As a result, users can access information within the datacenter anywhere and anytime.  

For instance, doctors frequently access EMR with their personal devices, regardless of whether they are on or off duty. Similarly, data integrity, security and flexibility for the nursing team and other healthcare staff to access the same files and reports must be ensured in remote locations. Thin clients serve a useful purpose in these scenarios where several team members work from multiple locations as they consolidate control and provide greater end user support.

Zero clients also offer the same as they are highly secure, cost-efficient and low-maintenance endpoint solutions for working with Big Data and managing end user workspaces. Essentially, zero clients allow users to leverage the resources they need for handling sensitive information and ensuring a consistent level of productivity especially in highly regulated sectors.

An effective match for such unique user requirements is ClearCube’s ClientCubes and TEMPEST certified zero clients. These endpoints function as a dynamic multi-level and multi-objective security solution in the most demanding workspaces. They work well for highly classified data with rigorous security mandates or TEMPEST standards.


Moving towards workspace virtualization requires thorough planning and endpoint device knowledge. This can be even more of a challenge if IT specialists have PC-like management tendencies.

Hence, when making a decision between thin and zero clients for virtual desktop computing, companies should consider both the current and future use cases of staff members. This provides simplicity and security in meeting business objectives.

From an IT standpoint, choosing the best thin or zero client solution enables administrators to draw on outstanding host-rendering efficiencies and ascertain quality UX over varying network conditions in enterprise-class VDI initiatives.

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