The term Zero Client came about because the line between Thin Clients and PCs has become increasingly difficult to determine – and companies who produce the thinnest clients needed a way to differentiate themselves.
If you can install and run all your applications on a Windows Server (think ‘mainframe’) then to view them remotely you only need a basic CPU, VGA driver, network I/O, keyboard and mouse – a Windows Terminal.
However today you can find “Thin Clients” with local storage, XP operating systems, and a host of local applications. In my opinion this has crossed the line and has become a PC.
Some would argue that a Zero Client is simply a VGA screen and a keyboard and mouse with no local operating system – but then you are really just talking about a keyboard/mouse extender and a long VGA cable. I would argue that the line that separates Zero Clients from Thin Clients is a little farther up the PC ladder, but certainly a Zero Client will have very simple hardware with no local storage and no ability for users to add local applications.
The phrase Cloud Computing came about because of the drawings engineers used to do when explaining the connections between users of telephone systems and, later, the Internet. All of the complexity was simplified into a cloud like shape.
When you use something like Google docs you are enjoying the benefits of Cloud Computing. Your documents (text, presentations, and spreadsheets) are saved along with the applications needed to display them somewhere in the Cloud that is the Internet. You do not know, nor do you really care, where they are located.
Cloud Computing and Thin Client technology are very similar and are both gaining attention as users seek to cut costs, simplify their IT requirements and increase security. Some applications are very well suited to be run in the cloud. Others (HMI, SCADA, MES, CAD systems specifically) need to be run on Thin Clients where the ‘cloud’ consists of company owned Terminal Servers. But in both cases users see benefits by not having to install and maintain the applications on local workstations.