The Future of Thin in the Cloud


With the continued explosion of cloud computing, and rapid growth in tablet sales, is there a place for more thin client growth in what is still a PC dominated landscape? On paper, cloud computing and thin client networks would seem to be in direct opposition.  The cloud allows for sharing data with no centralized storage point while thin client networks provide multiple access points to data through one centralized place or server.  And yet, these two vastly different approaches to network computing seem to be moving forward in the same direction…away from the NEED for PCs.

For those who manufacture and proliferate PCs, cloud based thin client networks are a continuing problem that will not go away.  People and companies who are deeply rooted in the world of PCs will swear up and down that PCs are still the answer.  After all, why replace a perfectly functioning PC with a new piece of hardware that brings less computing power to the table?  While there may be some validity found in that question, the Dell acquisition of Wyse for nearly $1 billion dollars should give PC zealots something to think about.  After all, when the world leader in PC sales purchases one of the world’s largest thin client manufacturers, it might lead one to believe that current trends and future forecasts are pointing to the continued growth of the thin client as the new standard.

Even though cloud computing offers the same access and benefits to both hardware types, the cloud is more of an added convenience to PC users, while it is very much a necessity for thin client architecture that includes remote users via secure remote connections.  Simply put, the cloud is the great equalizer.  By allowing data storage, application access, and even video processing to be securely accessed by multiple remote users, much of the standard PC becomes not only cost prohibitive but unnecessary.  In an environment containing a number of networked workstations, this cost prohibition is multiplied and makes the benefit of a thin client environment that much more obvious.

For those who create and sell software, the relationship between cloud computing and thin clients is more of a mixed bag that is directly related to specific company and licensing formats.  Microsoft, for example, is currently involved in a love/ hate relationship with cloud based thin client system architecture.  With the proliferation of their cloud (Azure), Microsoft is banking on the continued growth of cloud computing.  However, the expansion of VDI, virtualized servers, and thin client based networks into computing clouds has made the purchase of “per seat licensing” by end users a shrinking market that can be directly attributed to the growth of tablets and thin client network management in work environments.  Recently, Microsoft has stated that they are working on a way to change their licensing structure to ensure that clients and tablets running virtualization programs to access Windows applications will have to purchase additional licensing.

With so many moving parts to the puzzle, and the continuing advancement of cloud technology as well as fully managed thin client networks, it would seem that it is the end user who will dictate the future growth of PCs or thin clients as it relates to cloud computing.  With most of the major players hedging their bets and keeping one foot firmly planted in both camps, it should boil down to individual preference based on things such as ROI, TCO, and security versus accessibility.  While there is no immediate answer to the question of which is more viable in the cloud, the continuing use and growth of thin client network architecture across a growing cross-section of end users will ensure that both players will be able to be a part of the debate for years to come.

Tom Jordan

Marketing Lead for ThinManager - A Rockwell Automation Technology