What is the purpose of thin client operating systems?

Display stations are an effective tool for desktop virtualization. But what function do their operating systems serve in a virtual desktop environment?

When operating a virtualized setting, endpoint apparatuses are vital to facilitate connection to the virtual desktop. Zero clients and display stations are fashioned to do just that.

Zero clients have no local OS and no local hard drive or moving parts, but they do enable a VDI connection. Devoted display stations and the operating systems that can run on them offer numerous benefits. Having an operating system on a display station provides more than a connection mechanism through specific protocols and a user interface. It optimizes resources and helps the organization streamline its IT operations.

What are the different types of display station operating systems?

As opposed to PCs, display station hardware tends to be lower cost, less resource-hungry and easily scalable so that organizations can increase or reduce the number of devices as needed. To repurpose and redeploy otherwise obsolete devices, IT departments can install lightweight display station operating systems, such as the Stratodesk NoTouch OS, on older hardware with minimal memory or CPU resources. Since they require fewer resources, they usually need fewer updates and have lower maintenance costs. Additionally, their longer lifespan and ease of management contribute to cost savings.

Vendors provide different display station operating systems, with some being specifically for proprietary display station hardware and firmware, such as HP ThinPro OS, that focus solely on connecting to a specific VDI platform such as VMware Horizon or Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops. Microsoft has designed some versions of Windows specifically for various embedded systems, including display stations. Windows 10 IoT Enterprise and Windows Embedded Standard, for example, are both part of Microsoft’s embedded operating systems product group.

There are also display station operating systems based on Linux distributions customized for display station hardware, such as ThinStation and Igel OS. These systems can use local device hardware such as network and USB ports as well as CD drives to access device peripherals.

Some organizations develop their own custom display station operating systems and tailor them to their specific needs, incorporating elements from various open source or proprietary platforms. Each type of display station operating system offers its own set of features, optimizations and compatibility with different VDI tools. The choice of a display station operating system often depends on factors such as hardware compatibility, management capabilities, security features and integration with the desired VDI platform.

A comparison between PCs and display stations.
Display stations provide several management benefits for IT.

How can display station operating systems improve virtual desktop environments?

A display station operating system works to optimize the VDI in several ways. These operating systems are lightweight and require minimal local CPU, memory and storage resources. As a result, older or less powerful hardware can efficiently connect to and interact with the virtual desktop environment hosted on servers or in the cloud. In a virtual desktop environment, most processing tasks occur on the server side rather than on the display station device. The operating system offloads the computational workload to the server or the cloud, reducing the strain on the client-side hardware and improving overall performance.

From a networking point of view, display station operating systems minimize network bandwidth usage. They typically use efficient protocols to transmit data between the virtual desktop host and the client, optimizing data transfer and reducing network congestion.

Another advantage of display stations with an operating system is the ability to manage them centrally. IT administrators can centrally manage and update the operating system configurations, applications and security measures across multiple display station devices, reducing administrative overhead. By optimizing resources, centralizing processing, improving security and simplifying management, display station operating systems improve the efficiency of virtual desktop environments.

Two key management features are centralized policy enforcement and remote monitoring capabilities, which offer a range of additional benefits.

Centralized policy enforcement

Admins can enforce IT policies and compliance measures uniformly across all display station devices. This ensures consistent implementation of organizational policies regarding data protection, usage guidelines and regulatory compliance.

Each type of display station operating system offers its own set of features, optimizations and compatibility with different VDI tools.

Software deployment and updates are also easier to handle as a result. IT can simultaneously deploy software applications, upgrades and patches across all display station devices from a central location. This establishes uniformity in software versions and security standards.

In general, centralized management can strengthen device and data security. IT can manage and enforce security measures such as user access controls, encryption settings, antivirus updates and firewall configurations centrally, ensuring a secure environment across all display stations. Display stations also reduce the attack surface on the local client side, as data resides on the server.

Remote monitoring capabilities

Centralized management tools enable real-time monitoring of display station devices. This offers both remote troubleshooting and asset management benefits.

IT teams can identify and troubleshoot problems and perform diagnostics without physically accessing individual devices. Remote control capabilities also improve the user experience by making it easier for support staff to provide technical assistance to end users.

Additionally, centralized management facilitates asset tracking and inventory management for display station devices. IT can monitor hardware specifications, device health and usage statistics from a single interface.

Helen Searle-Jones holds a group head of IT position in the manufacturing sector and has more than 25 years of experience with managing a wide range of Microsoft technologies in the cloud and on premises.

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