What Is a Thick Client?
In order to understand thin clients, it makes sense to first explain what a thick client is.
In the context of network computing, a thick client (also called a “fat client” or “rich client'') is a fully functional computer that happens to connect to a server. A thick client has its own operating system, software, processing capabilities, and local storage - all of which lets it continue working without any issues while offline.
Essentially, any device that can function completely independently of a remote server is a thick client. Everyday examples of thick clients include desktop PCs or laptops running Windows or MacOS.
What Is a Thin Client?
A thin client is usually a stripped down computer with limited processing capabilities that’s been specifically optimized to run inside a network environment. It has very limited local storage and a streamlined OS. In contrast to a thick client, a thin client needs access to the remote server in order to function properly.
The primary purpose of a thin client is to act as a gateway to the network and to display information to the end user.
Sidenote: What’s a “Zero” Client?
A “zero” client (or “ultrathin” client) is the most barebones version of a thin client. A zero client has no internal storage or operating system and depends 100% on the remote server to run these on its behalf. It’s basically just a terminal that lets a user access a network. For the remainder of this discussion, we will treat zero clients as a subset of thin clients.
What Does Virtual Desktop Infrastructure Mean?
The discussion of thin vs. thick client makes the most sense in the context of so-called Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).
In short, VDI is a network setup where a server in a data center runs a virtual “desktop” on behalf of each user, utilizing the server’s storage, operating system, and resources. In turn, individual users plug into their virtual desktops by using either a thick or a thin client as the endpoint.
VDI is frequently used by larger corporations to streamline the management of remote devices and scale IT operations.
Thin Client vs. Thick Client: How Do They Compare?
So what exactly are the differences between thin and thick clients? The primary ones are as follows:
Thin clients are more affordable. They rely on remote servers for processing and therefore do not require expensive local hardware.
2. Power Consumption
Because they run few local applications (if any), thin clients consume less power. A larger company can significantly reduce its power use and environmental impact by switching to a thin-client-based setup.
3. Local Resources
Thin clients have limited local resources to speak of in terms of data storage, processing, and OS. They depend on the network to provide these.
4. Network Dependency
Because of the above, thin clients require a stable network connection. Without it, thin clients are virtually useless. Thick clients, on the other hand, are perfectly capable of functioning offline using their own hardware and software.
Thin clients are typically managed remotely with limited input from the end user. Thick clients can be customized by individual employees by installing the necessary local software and applications.
6. IT Resources
Thick clients lead to a more fragmented IT approach in order to monitor, maintain, and update the different software on each individual’s computer. With thin clients, everything is rolled out and managed centrally, making much more effective use of IT resources.
With a thin client setup, the user’s “desktop” exists largely in the cloud. As such, it offers better mobility, because the user can successfully access their virtual desktop from any endpoint.
Thick clients are more prone to security issues, as there’s little oversight of what users download and install on their local machines. With thin clients, this threat is minimized because IT has more control over software deployments and cyber threat monitoring.
|Thin Client||Thick Client|
|Function offline?||No (or very limited)||Yes|
|Customizability by end users||Limited||Full|
|IT resource requirements||Lower||Higher|
|Security||More secure||Less secure|