Thin terminals are becomingly increasingly common among large Enterprises. Some estimates claim that as much as 30% of end-users could end up using thin terminals instead of PCs within a few years. This shift is driven by two factors – TCO and security. Thin terminals are cheaper to manage and secure, hence IT managers are looking to them as a way to ease the burden of managing end-user devices. However, the protocols used to communicate between thin terminals and their servers, such as RDP, were not originally designed for audio and video . Hence the audio and video quality for soft phones on thin terminals leaves much to be desired. The network can no longer distinguish between voice/video packets and data packets since they are all carried in the same encrypted stream. Similarly, CAC (Call Admission Control) management mechanisms are less effective when the network no longer has visibility into the type of packets carried to the endpoint. In VTG, we are seeing customer requests to have our softphones work better on Wyse thin terminals or Citrix (as an example), but the problem is more complex than just porting over the softclient to the desired thin terminal. Most of the the time, the issues that users report are a consequence of putting audio and video streams into the display protocol, leading to bandwidth and QoS issues. And of course, the variety of thin clients is increasing exponentially - Wyse went from 5 to 21 models inside 3 years.
However, thin terminals are simply a phase of a larger trend. Browser-based applications are becoming the norm, whether the applications are based in the cloud or in enterprise datacenters. The SaaS model delivers ease of deployment beyond what traditional desktop virtualization delivers, and allows the desktop device to be slimmed down to just enough hardware to support a browser and provide collaboration (such as audio/video encoding and decoding). Netbooks are an example of the trend towards just-enough hardware. It is fascinating to watch this market in evolution as the trend towards browsers and the trend towards thin terminals interplay with each other. With the browser model, there are still implementations that encapsulate all media types in a single tunnel, such as Flash, and others that break out the various media types so that the network can apply the appropriate level of service that each media type deserves, depending on network capabilities and policy.
Data is the next major area to be addressed. Storage in the datacenter is getting increasingly virtualized, and IT managers are looking for the desktop device to be simply a data cache, where the source of truth will live in the network, not in the device as is the case today. This model addresses some of the security concerns that IT managers have, and allows data security and data lockdown to be provided in a manner that best meets the organization’s needs.
Bottom line, what customers really want is for the desktop experience to be virtualized so that data security, device management and application deployment are addressed. Thin clients are the option they are using at this point since there is no better alternative available, but thin clients comes with their own challenges, the lack of network transparency being chief among them. The end-goal is to provide virtualization for TCO, but not at the expense of the user experience.
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