At the end of last year we invested in quite a few thin clients (and the servers to run them) for 3 different computer labs. While the rollout hasn't been without its struggles, the experience has overall been very positive. We installed the last of the thin clients just yesterday, in time for the first day of school this year.
As many of you know, it's pretty easy to turn most old desktops into thin clients. Install a thin Linux distro, BSD, or just about any version of Windows and Remote Desktop Protocol will get you connected to Windows Terminal Services. Edubuntu runs quite well on just about any old machine whose BIOS can be set to boot from a network.
So why pay for thin clients? Some can run upwards of $500-$600, which is ridiculous for a machine with little intrinsic value. Others, however, can be had for $100-$200 from vendors like HP-Compaq. In this range, where the price point is not so outrageous, there are several advantages to purchasing new, purpose-built thin clients:
- They are virtually silent (no moving parts)
- They generate very little heat and consume very little power
- They look pretty (this seems stupid, but you'd be amazed how bureaucrats and community members assign value based on appearance)
- They come pre-loaded with software that makes connecting to a network (whether Windows, Citrix, or LTSP) really easy
This last point is incredibly important. When time is of the essence, utilities that simply aren't found by running RDP on a random Linux box can bring a lot of value to the table. As I was rushing last night to finish wiring the lab and configure the thin clients (HP's bottom of the line, but perfectly slick machines), I stumbled across a button that said "Deploy settings with HP ThinState".
Clicking on the button, I was taken to a simple wizard that allowed me to capture all of the settings (server connections, screen resolutions, local resources, etc.) from a completely configured thin client onto a flash drive. Plugging the flash drive into the next thin client, the same wizard allowed me to replicate these settings. The whole process took less than a minute; at 30 seconds per machine, I saved myself an awful lot of time, as well as eliminating potential errors or inconsistencies.
This utility was incredibly cool; by 2:00 in the morning, anything that allows me to mindlessly insert, click, and be done is a good thing. Talk back below and let us know if you've had positive experiences with commercial thin clients or if you've discovered any solid utilities for setting up roll-your-own thin clients from surplus machines.