Thin Client vs. Thick Client: Which One is Best?

IT departments in large companies sometimes have to manage thousands of employee devices. They typically do so remotely via corporate networks connected to each user’s computer. The terms “thin client” and “thick client” refer to those individual computers.

But what exactly are thin and thick clients and how do they compare to each other? This article will discuss:

  • The definitions of thick and thin client (as well as “zero” client)
  • The concept of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI)
  • The comparison of thin and thick clients
  • The benefits of using a thin client
  • EPOS solutions for thin client devices and VDI

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:

1. Cost

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.

5. Customizability

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.

7. Mobility

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.

8. Security

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.

Here’s a summary:

Thin ClientThick Client
CostCheaperMore expensive
Power consumptionLowerHigher
Local resourcesLimitedFull
Function offline?No (or very limited)Yes
Customizability by end usersLimitedFull
IT resource requirementsLowerHigher
MobilityHigherLower
SecurityMore secureLess secure

Why Use a Thin Client?

Thin clients come with clear individual device limitations compared to thick clients. So why are thin clients often preferred over thick clients when it comes to corporate IT infrastructure?

That’s because, from a company perspective, thin clients offer a number of advantages:

1. Better Scalability

Relying on a thin client setup gives IT managers much better control over software installs, updates, and device management. Everything can be handled from a central server and pushed out to all users via mass deployments.

2. Improved Security

By managing software and applications centrally, thin client architecture reduces the risks of malware and other security threats from individual endpoint devices.

3. Reduced Costs

Equipping thousands of employees with cheaper thin client devices can have a significant impact on reducing overall costs. Similarly, lower energy consumption from each thin client leads to less expenditure and a reduced carbon footprint for the company as a whole.

For a more detailed look at the benefits of thin clients, download the EPOS “Thin Client” whitepaper.

EPOS Digital Solutions for Thin Clients and VDI

EPOS offers premium audio solutions for businesses, including headsets and speakerphones.

To help IT managers optimize and update these remote audio devices, EPOS provides Digital Solutions. These work on thick clients, but EPOS also partners with leading thin client OS providers to enable companies with a VDI setup to take full advantage of EPOS device management software.

EPOS Manager

This solution is a web platform aimed at IT admins to manage EPOS devices deployed within the organization. The device management includes updating, and configuring any number of headsets or speakerphones within the organization, saving the IT department a significant amount of time.

EPOS Connect

This solution is a client application that must be installed and running on the VDI endpoint (thin client). EPOS Connect enables asset management features like firmware updates, audio configuration, and monitoring for EPOS devices. The IT administrator can manage these through the EPOS Manager UI.