The Death of the Thin Client

  1. I can’t tell you how many CloudConnect partners have asked me “what do you recommend for devices when connecting to the CloudConnect platform?” Existing PCs, thin clients, new workstations, BYOD, tablets, smartphones…they all have their pluses and minuses, and for the most part, they will all work with any Citrix platform. Unless their office is mostly telecommuters, most businesses still need to stock their workstations with a device for their employees to connect to their virtual desktops. And most business also do not want to purchase or upgrade their existing devices to the Thin Clients at the same time they are migrating to virtual desktops.

While Thin Clients are a great idea on paper, they can also be a real challenge for IT to manage. There’s a learning curve. An image must be built (assuming pxe boot), and firmware updates usually require an active subscription with the vendor, adding to the TCO. At the end of the day, we need to remind ourselves what a Thin Client really is: it’s a Windows PC. Yes, it’s stripped down, yes it’s using an embedded operating system, and yes it costs less than a PC, but deep under the hood, it’s an attempt by hardware manufacturers to sell a hardware device that solves a software problem.

Thin Clients are also cheaply made (as vendors try to recoup the cost of a windows embedded license), and with modern Citrix Display protocols, the hardware specifications on the end user device is again starting to matter. The better the hardware, the more fluid the user’s virtual desktop experience will be.

At the end of the day, End Users want a single sign on experience to their virtual desktop. Business owners do not want to commit to the risk and cost of swapping out all of their existing work station PCs with a foreign platform. IT wants the end user’s device completely locked down for the end user (no saving files locally, no browsing the web locally). IT Administrators also want these restrictions to be easily removed when the IT administrator is using the device (to install a new printer driver or configure a remote management agent). IT administrators also want to manage that device like a Windows Device, leveraging their existing knowledge without the learning curve of a Thin Client management framework.

Enter CloudConnect WorkStation Config Utility. This groundbreaking utility takes any existing Windows 10 workstation and within about 30 seconds, the device is configured for use with CloudConnect Citrix Virtual Desktops. The configuration is completely user, business, and domain agnostic. The device boots directly to the CloudConnect NetScaler Gateway, and the user immediately benefits from a single sign on experience that makes the local device transparent. Business owners are satisfied by the ability to re-purpose their existing equipment with minimal labor. IT is satisfied as the end user’s workstation device is locked down yet managed like a traditional PC.

WorkStation Config is a Utility that I am particularly proud to have participated in the development of. Back in the day, we spent an enormous amount of time researching the optimal device for which users could seamlessly access CloudConnect virtual desktops. We learned how users interacted with these devices, what they liked and what they didn’t like. We also learned what IT admins needed to effectively control those devices within minimal effort. Our solution was a Thin Client device with a manually configured image leveraging Windows Embedded. However, in order to take advantage of this approach. it required businesses to purchase new hardware or re image hard drives using the same motherboard. The concept never caught on. The hardware was too expensive and the implementation was too laborious for IT.

Fast Forward to 2017 and Windows Management Framework is greatly improved. Beginning late last year, we pulled out our old Thin Client configuration SOPs from 2011 and began to recompile every step and every instruction into a hardware-agnostic PowerShell Script (by the way, it’s a really big script). Now, IT can convert existing workstations to “Thin Clients” without the cost or headache of replacing hardware and learning a new platform. End Users also benefit by keeping the computing power of their existing devices. What’s more, if the workstation is licensed for Windows 10 Ultimate, WorkStation Config will automatically enable AppLocker, immunizing the device from zero day/new malware threats. There’s no reinstalling printers and peripherals. The solution is fast, free, and it just works.

Over seven years of device R&D knowhow is finally packaged into a 30 second script thanks to advancements in the Windows Management Framework, and the dedication of a few passionate individuals. WorkStation Config is now available in the Public Catalog today for download. It’s licensed free of charge to CloudConnect End Users for use with the CloudConnect Platform.

To learn more about this absolutely fabulous workstation utility for CloudConnect administrators, download our most recent White Paper today.