While my company Stratodesk is not directly active in the Thin Client market, we have connections and knowledge to share. In general, the market hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Thin Clients are still Thin Clients, small boxes without a fan and no spinning hard drive. The latter used to be extraordinary, with advance of SSDs in normal PCs it is not unusual any more. Thin Clients serve as endpoints to the VDI protocols, such as Microsoft’s RDP, Citrix ICA/RDP, VMware Horizon’s Blast and Teradici’s PCoIP. That said, these little boxes always need a server that runs the actual Windows OS, the actual applications you are working with. They do only little to nothing on their own. Some models can run a web browser, some don’t but that’s about it. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be considered a Thin Client.
Dell and HP are the companies that produce the lion’s share of Thin Clients today. Dell had acquired Wyse a couple of years ago and integrated the product lines into their own portfolio with some disruptions to the sales channels. HP is undergoing a lot of re-orgs. Both are right now, sadly, not doing a great job in sales and marketing – just a little thing, but telling! – the Google Adwords link that shows up when you search for Dell Thin clients goes to a generic overview page that doesn’t even mention Thin Clients. Unacceptable in a well-managed organization. While their hardware is still excellent, there doesn’t seem to be any innovation on the software side. (Of course everyone in the field is now claiming to have software innovation. Well, that’s the marketing.)
Speaking of Thin Client, you will probably not have heard of Clientron. Clientron is the Chinese manufacturer that makes most of the Thin Clients, especially the “b-brands”, smaller, regional manufacturers. Not all, but most. It is funny see to how great extents these companies go to conceal that, you open the box, boot Linux, run dmidecode and it tells you “Clientron”.
Now who are the runner-ups, those who attack the big ones and try to benefit from their weaknesses? One company to watch out for is 10ZiG, an American company based in Phoenix, AZ with a wide product portfolio and a good track record. Also American is Devon IT who had various OEM partners in the last years. On the other hand, German company Igel (Igel is German for hedgehog which is their mascot) is spending a lot of marketing dollars on taking HP and Dell market share away (Tesla giveaway) and has managed to build a name here quickly. Let’s see how this will play out.
I don’t think many of them will be around much longer, the market will consolidate a lot in the next years. Some vendors are clearly out to be acquired (more about that in a future article). On the customer side – Who, who is serious in their mind, can spend $400 on a rebranded imported box with little functionality? The Zero Client was an interesting alternative but it seems not have received traction outside of VMWare who have switched to their own Blast protocol. Made by Teradici they aimed to do all the decoding in hardware. I liked the idea, but I didn’t like their marketing as saying “it has no OS” because that is obviously not true. If that was true, how do they explain the availability of firmware updates? Right?
The most promising part of Thin Client alternatives is the Raspberry Pi, especially the Citrix HDX Ready Pi initiative. Citrix has created an open ecosystem for hardware companies to join and get into this market. Right now, ViewSonic and NComputing are selling Raspberry Pi based Thin Clients – the SC-T25 and RX-HDX, respectively, they cost less than a third and can do the same if not more: Fully managed, enterprise ready, decoding in hardware (Raspberry Pi has a H.264 hw decoder), it combines the advantage of Zero & Thin Clients and goes for hundred to $120 dollars street price. However, I need to stop here, this is supposed to be an unbiased review, and I do have something to with Raspberry Pi.
What else? The Intel NUC is a promising alternative. It is way faster, more elegant and cheaper than any Clientron/younameit Thin Client. NUCs are sold as barebones for now, not exactly enterprise ready by itself, but a good opportunity for local resellers and assemblers to step in. You still need an OS and management solution, I’d love explain the benefits of NoTouch Desktop, but since this is my creation I am obviously biased. Read what Gabe at BrianMadden.com is saying about NoTouch. Also, you can get the Intel Compute Sticks.
Chromebooks have been hyped a while as potential Thin Client alternatives, but honestly, apart from some segments in education I don’t see them around too much. The apps are still not there. If you aren’t all-in for Web only and G Suite, they provide little to no value.
Summarizing – Even though in the Thin Client market in the narrow sense shows little movement and is still a niche like it has been a decade ago, there is a lot of innovation around this. Citrix, being the recognized ecosystem leader, is still innovating – a lot actually! Developments around NUC, Compute Stick and especially the part where I’m biased, the Raspberry Pi – this is what I consider the most exciting development of all.
Disclaimer: As the Founder&CEO of Stratodesk and lead architect of NoTouch Desktop, our PC repurposing/Thin Client conversion product, I have seen a lot of Thin Clients come and go. While I had originally intended NoTouch as a PC product, it was surprising to me how many people actually used NoTouch to upgrade their Thin Client because people where unhappy about the builtin software; that said I don’t consider these “legacy Thin Client manufacturers” to be competitors in any way as Stratodesk does not make or OEM-rebrand any hardware. In fact, they can be thankful, we have made lots of HP, Dell, Lenovo, Igel, etc customers happy again by upgrading their boxes!