Often, when I discuss with a friend or colleague “thin client” I get (understandably) a completely blank look. Most desktop computers in use at RGU today are what we in the trade call “fat client”. That means that the box that sits on your desk (or under it) is a fully fledged personal computer, usually running Microsoft Windows or Apple OSX, with software installed on it to meet your needs – just like the one you probably have at home. So you’ve learned something – your home computer is a “fat client”.
And if your home computer is anything like the norm, it’s a bit of work to keep it up to date. There are always new versions of software to load, updates being downloaded, things go wrong, and it has to be backed up so that you don’t lose any of your files and settings (you do backup your home computer . . . don’t you?). When you get a new computer, there is all the pain of transferring across all your software and files and of course always some software that stubbornly refuses to work on the new computer.
If that’s a battle at home, try managing 3000 of these things in an environment like the University. They also consume a lot of energy and output a lot of heat – particularly where you have lots of PC’s in an IT Lab.
So, if that’s “fat client”, what’s “thin?”. With “thin client”, all your software, settings and data are run on central servers. At RGU, you access these through our “MyApps” service which I have mentioned in a previous post. The box that sits on your desk has just about nothing in it – it just has to connect you to MyApps. That’s why it is called “thin”. That means it’s dead simple, uses little energy and it’s a piece of cake to install it. If it goes wrong – just get another one.
We are shortly going to start installing these across the University to replace traditional PC’s. This will substantially reduce our energy bills and simplify our IT support. What does a “thin client” look like? It looks just like a “fat client” except it’s thinner and totally silent. You still have a keyboard, you still have a mouse, you still have a monitor, and the software you use is still the same.
I’ve just received one, and I will use it from now on as my main University computer. I am writing this blog entry on it – it’s just the same as using Microsoft Word on any computer.
We won’t be putting thin client everywhere – some specialist software applications run better with a “fat client” computer so we will keep these where they are required. Wherever possible, however, we will over the next few years be buying “thin client” computers instead.