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Thin Vs Thick Clients – Whitepaper


Thin Vs Thick Clients

Paul McCherry



Abstract 3
Thin Vs Thick Clients 4
Introduction 4
Hardware Comparison 5
Operating System Comparison 6
Costs 7
Security 8
Conclusion 9
References 10


The client company requires two reports writing. The first of these is to compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of adopting thin or thick client systems ensuring to include financial considerations for the plausibility of each solution.

Thin Vs Thick Clients


The purpose of this report is to explain the technical aspects of thin and thick clients as well as the financial costs for each of the options.

It is understood that the client has approximately 50 computers on site and the solutions provided should take this size into account when providing cost justifications. The company is a fairly standard mix of administrative staff, graphical users (ie Designers, Artists, Cad/Cam, Architects, Power users) and data inputters as would be found in any normal Small to Medium Business. (SMB)

Hardware Comparison

According to James Gaskin (2011) Thick clients, also known as Fat Clients are personal computers with their own operating system and storage and have an ability to execute their own programs. The hardware specification for a thick client always includes a Central Processor (CPU), from a manufacturer such as Intel, AMD or ARM, etc. It also includes a Primary Storage device such as Random Access Memory (RAM) and a secondary storage device for example, a hard disk drive. The Microsoft Windows Operating system is the primary example of a thick client operating system and is loaded into RAM from the Hard disk on boot up.

Thick clients are best utilised where graphical applications and high process intensive applications are required. These applications would require a high server process usage and a high network bandwidth if they were to run on the server utilising thin clients. Dreamworks, the company that brought us animated films such as “Shrek” for instance still utilise HP Thick Clients (Hewlett Packard, 2014) despite HP’s (2013) latest innovations and improvements in its Remote Graphics Software (RGS) protocol.

Improvements in Remote Graphic Software, Networking protocols and Thin clients designed to remove the bottlenecks that have always existed are nearing their ultimate aim to remove the necessity of utilizing thick clients on the network altogether. It is also unlikely that most company’s require the graphical power of specialised animation company’s such as Dreamworks. Therefore the more powerful thin client systems may prove adequate for the client company’s graphical users, powerful multimedia thin clients such as the Hewlett Packard T820 may prove suitable. (Hewlett Packard, 2013)

Thin Clients communicate with a central server, which provides most of the processing power to run applications and make mathematical calculations. Keyboard strokes are sent from the thin client to the server which carries out the required commands and processes and then returns updated images back to the thin client. The thin client has no secondary storage and a relatively small amount of Primary storage (RAM). (PC MAGAZINE, 2010)
PC Magazine continues to explain that there are three main ways that thin clients are utilised. These are:-

• Shared Services – Users utilise a terminal services application such as Windows Terminal Services or Citrix XenApp to run prescribed applications running on the server within a window.
• Desktop Virtualization – Using products such Vmware Desktop manager(VDM). This creates a virtual PC on a separate partition of the hard disk of a server. The user is then presented with a view of this Virtual PC.
• Browser Based – The required applications have been designed to run within a web browser. Web Browsers utilise relatively little memory. (PC MAGAZINE, 2010)

Hogan (2015) observes that there are many benefits to utilizing thin clients such as lower infrastructure and operational support costs and higher security. Also less mains power utilization which reduces energy costs and improves the companies Green credentials, and easier centralised manageability.

Burkitt (1998) identifies thin clients as the best solution when used in administrative situations where web browsing, word processing, email and database solutions are the applications in use on a daily basis. These applications require far less processing power and much less network bandwidth.

Operating System Comparison

As previously discussed a thick client operating system such as windows, running on a Thick client pc provides the basic computing resources. TutorialsPoint (TutorialsPoint, 2014)describes the operating system as the interface between a user and the hardware and it controls the execution of the programs. Tutorialspoint continues to list the functions of an operating system, which are :-

• Memory management
• Processor Management
• Device Management
• File Management
• Security
• Control over system performance
• Job accounting
• Error Detecting Aids
• Coordination between other software and users

The services a thick operating system provides are program execution, I/o operations, file system manipulation, communication, error detection, resource allocation and protection.

Novell (Novell, 2007) explain that thin operating systems are thick operating systems that have been optimised by removing the functions and services that are not required and improving specialist services such as security, remote graphics and remote application connections. Various thin operating systems exist such as Thin OS, Suse Linux(enhanced) and Microsoft Windows Embedded.

These operating systems may still have the same functions and services but they are specifically optimised for remote connections.

The thin client operating system will normally boot from a Flash drive therefore removing the necessity of a hard drive. The flash drive will allow the operating system (OS) to be updated when required. This would not be possible if the OS was stored in Read Only Memory (ROM).

Bigelow (2009)explains that he reduced size of the specialised operating system ensures it will boot quicker and utilise far less Random Accesss Memory (RAM). Additionally, as applications are run on the server the requirement for large amounts of RAM are negated.


According to Computer Weekly, (2012) Server based computing is now a viable option and the technology is extremely advanced. The added value and cost savings of thin client technology can be in areas such as support and maintenance reduction and easier software licence control.

A report on the Dundee Councils adoption of Thin client computing (Computer Weekly, 2000) observes that the main reason for moving to a thin client architecture was not because of a difference in capital costs but due to the huge savings in yearly support costs that the Council would benefit from.

Dell elaborates (Dell, 2014) that there is a wide choice of thin client systems, prices can vary between £30 and £300. Different choices of thin client hardware and operating systems are targeted at different types of users. There are expensive models focused on power and multimedia and cheaper thin clients designed for the standard user who wishes to browse the web, send emails and create documents.


Many Clients now have the trusted platform module (TPM) ensuring the system is encrypted and therefore only accessible to authorised users should the system be stolen. Other security enhancements might include
• SATA and USB port disablement,
• removable media boot control,
• power on and setup passwords
• support for smart cards,
• hood sensors
• cable lock support
• firewall
• read only operating system
All of which ensure thin clients remain highly secure devices. Communication protocols can also enhance security such as SSH and HTTPS.


The main issue with utilising thin clients throughout a network is the bandwidth reqirements of users that require the use of powerful graphic intensive applications, Voice over IP(VOIP) or multimedia. If powerful thin clients such as the HP T820 are selected for these power users then it would be prudent to ensure that the network bandwidth is optimised and 1GByte or even 10 GByte connections would be included into the network infrastructure design.

It may also be necessary to install thick client, windows based systems where specialised bespoke software requires standalone solutions or simply will not work in a virtualised environment. The use of this option should however be kept to an absolute minimum. The additional management involved in maintaining thick client systems will substantially cut into the savings made by moving to thin client architecture.

It is therefore recommended that a thin client architecture based network be installed. Inexpensive thin clients should be utilised for the most part in administrative areas whilst tests should be carried out on high end thin clients to ensure any of the customers graphical intensive tasks will work adequately. If this is not the case then it may be necessary to continue using thick clients in these areas.

This solution will necessitate the installation of a large server capable of running 50 virtual machines configured with redundancy and failover in mind. However the initial capital costs will soon be recovered in the reduction of yearly support costs.


Bigelow, S.J. (2009) Thin clients vs. thick clients for desktop virtualization. Available at: http://searchitchannel.techtarget.com/feature/Thin-clients-vs-thick-clients-for-desktop-virtualization (Accessed: 13th February 2015).
Burkitt, M. (1998) Thin client/server computing lets you take control. Available at: http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/White-Paper-Thin-client-server-computing-lets-you-take-control (Accessed: 4th February 2015).
Computer Weekly (2000) Switch to thin client cuts support costs for council. Available at: http://www.computerweekly.com/feature/Switch-to-thin-client-cuts-support-costs-for-council (Accessed: 4th February 2015).
Dell (2014) Wyse Thin Clients and Software. Available at: http://www.dell.com/us/business/p/cloud-client-computing?c=us&cs=04&l=en&s=bsd&~ck=bt&~ck=mn#!tabId=8886AFAC (Accessed: 23th February 2015).
Gaskin, J.E. (2011) Thin vs. Thick Clients. Available at: http://www.biztechmagazine.com/article/2011/09/thin-vs-thick-clients (Accessed: 4th February 2015).
Hewlett Packard (2013) HP t820 Flexible Thin Client Datasheet. Available at: http://h20195.www2.hp.com/v2/GetDocument.aspx?docname=4AA4-9634EEE&doctype=data%20sheet&doclang=EN_GB&searchquery=&cc=uk&lc=en (Accessed: 30 September 2014).
Hewlett Packard (2014) HP Australia an official partner of the DreamWorks Animation Exhibition. Available at: http://www8.hp.com/au/en/hp-news/press-release.html?id=1606586#.U-kp0vldV8E (Accessed: 13th February 2015).
Hogan, N. (2015) Principle Aims of the Sustainable ICT. Available at: http://www.londonhigher.ac.uk/fileadmin/documents/GrILH/EAUC_ThinClient.pdf (Accessed: 4th February 2015).
Longbottom, C. (2012) How to exploit thin-client computing. (Accessed: 9th February 2015).
Novell (2007) Novell Introduces SUSE Linux Enterprise Thin Client Solution. Available at: http://www.novell.com/news/press/2007/3/novell-introduces-suse-linux-enterprise-thin-client-solution.html (Accessed: 13th February 2015).
PC MAGAZINE (2010) Definition of:thin client. Available at: http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/52832/thin-client (Accessed: 4th February 2015).
TutorialsPoint (2014) http://www.tutorialspoint.com/operating_system/os_quick_guide.htm. Available at: http://www.tutorialspoint.com/operating_system/os_quick_guide.htm (Accessed: 13th February 2015).
Washington, E. (2013) HP Launches Remote Graphics Software Redesign. Available at: http://www.awn.com/news/hp-launches-remote-graphics-software-redesign (Accessed: 13th February 2015).