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Thin Client Research - UC DRC Home
Thin Client Research
By
Adrian Bourguignon
Submitted to
the Faculty of the School of Information Technology
in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for
the Degree of Bachelor of Science
in Information Technology
© Copyright 2015 Adrian Bourguignon
The author grants to the School of Information Technology permission
to reproduce and distribute copies of this document in whole or in part.
\
University of Cincinnati
College of
Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services
April 2015
Table of Contents
Abstract ........................................................................................................................................... 3 Introduction ..................................................................................................................................... 4 Problem Statement .......................................................................................................................... 4 Solution ........................................................................................................................................... 6 Network and Server Design ............................................................................................................ 7 Network Diagram............................................................................................................................ 9 Physical Design of Client................................................................................................................ 9 Client Prototype Method ............................................................................................................... 10 User Profile ................................................................................................................................... 12 Use Case Diagram......................................................................................................................... 12 Budget ........................................................................................................................................... 13 Technical Challenges and Limitations .......................................................................................... 14 Gantt Charts .................................................................................................................................. 15 Testing........................................................................................................................................... 17 Conclusion .................................................................................................................................... 19 Figures
Figure 1: Network Design ............................................................................................................... 9 Figure 2: Thin Client Design ........................................................................................................ 10 Figure 3: Use Case Diagram ......................................................................................................... 12 Figure 4: Timeline......................................................................................................................... 17 Tables
Table 1: Thin Client Cost.............................................................................................................. 11 Table 2: Backend cost ................................................................................................................... 13 Table 3: Test Results..................................................................................................................... 18 2
Abstract
The basic principles of thin clients have remained unchanged since their invention in
1993. A user uses a low power terminal client to connect to a server that computes the client’s
requests. One of the main advantages of thin clients is centralized management and security. For
example applications and desktops are fully controlled by the administrator, which results in a
more streamlined and secure environment.
Building a thin-client network is a complex task that can have many solutions; during the
course of my research I found a solution that deals with the issues that are associated with thin
clients. The license cost of thin clients and servers are expensive, and my goal was to find a
balance between cost and performance. I have used proprietary and open source solutions in
order to reduce cost.
3
Introduction
IT professionals who administer a large number of computers and users face many issues
during the course of their workday. A major problem is the lack of standardization of user’s
personal computers throughout an organization. Users are not always running the same versions
of software and they could be running a vulnerable version unknowingly. This results in
unexpected errors and potential security holes. Keeping track of every user is a hard task, and
mobile users are even harder to re-image because of their unpredictable locations. The inability
to maintain computers at the same level of security makes security compliance nearly
impossible. The difference in configuration makes troubleshooting hard and takes away
resources from the IT department. Data security and control is also a major problem in thickclient environments. Administrators need to keep their sensitive information from being accessed
and leaked by unauthorized individuals.
Problem Statement
One solution to the problem of desktop security and stability is desktop and application
virtualization. Thin clients are one of the many solutions and are an alternative to full desktop
computers. They operate on an extremely basic operating system in order to connect to the
services that are hosted on a centralized location. A central point of management allows IT
professionals to deploy applications and system updates to all of their users rapidly. A base
image can be made for the virtual desktop, and applications can be deployed to the user’s
environment. The user do not have control over the machines’ physical environments. By
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prohibiting direct access to the computer’s storage an administrator can prevent a wide variety of
attacks that a malicious user could perform locally on a thick-client.
As great as thin-clients may be, one of the major issues with a thin client system is the
cost. One of the largest costs in thin-client computing is licensing. The licenses are expensive,
and the cost adds up with every device used to provide the service. The goal of this project is to
reduce the cost of thin clients. My thin client will use cheaper hardware and open source systems
in an attempt to reduce expenses. Traditional thin clients are rather expensive considering its
simple hardware, whereas standard computers can provide a more affordable client alternative.
Computers built on standards, like ATX connectors and interchangeable parts, provide
administrators with a wide variety of choices when building and repairing. This client would not
become obsolete, because it would run an open source Linux operating system. The concept of
using open source software can be a major advantage when it comes to the longevity of a thin
client, because software updates will not depend on the financial interest of a third party.
Linux was chosen because it will allow businesses to cut down on the cost of client
licensing and can be customized to act as a thin client operating system. There are many VDI and
terminal server solutions, but the one that I selected to complete my project does support Linux
as a client OS. I believe that an IT department could reduce the amount of time they spend
supporting and fixing desktops by switching to a centralized management solution. The ability to
directly push updated applications to the application server would increase security by forcing all
users to comply with the same level of security without taking any action. The user will not
notice a difference until they log in after the update.
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Another potential solution, aside from thin clients, is an advanced mass imaging solution
with network file backup. In theory, you could refresh computers on a monthly basis, to make
sure that everyone’s computer has the same image, but this requires more interaction with the
user’s physical machine. This could require IT personnel to go from station to station, to verify
that users have no local files, and to initiate the process.
Solution
My solution to the issue of thin client costs is to create a client built from standardized
hardware that still maintains the power efficiency of traditional thin client systems. The reason
why thin clients are expensive is because they are a niche product. Thin clients have not yet
conquered the business desktop market, and probably will not until the advantages become
clearer to administrators and accountants. Because of the low volume of sales, thin client costs
more to produce, even though they contain less powerful hardware. In the past, desktop parts
were not capable of achieving thin client-like power consumption, but this is not a problem
anymore. Intel’s new line of Atom processors can use as little as 0.65 watts to a maximum of 10
watts. Using this technology, I have built a client that uses a low power motherboard as its main
platform. The CPU and GPU are all integrated onto the board in order to save money. Its basic
components are still universal; just as the power supply, RAM, and hard drive are all based on
the standard parts used, like any other computer.
The solution that I designed is meant for commercial and business environments. It was
designed to be durable and easy to maintain, so it could be used in a normal office environment,
6
or even the harsh environment of a steel plant. The backend of my thin client network was
created on a Citrix environment. XenDesktop in itself is not cheap, but it is also one of the oldest
and well-known thin client server solutions. One of the considerations during my research was
the long-term support of a potential choice. I found solutions that were more affordable, but
those solutions were made by companies that offered little to no support, or had just started in the
virtualization industry. When investing into an information technology solution it is important to
think about the long-term goal and stability of a project. If the consumer is required to hire an
expert to deploy and maintain a complicated server; it could cost more in man hours than to pay
for a more expensive license. If a software vendor goes bankrupt, then there will be no one to
support its infrastructure.
Network and Server Design
My initial choice for the hypervisor was VMware ESXi. ESXi was an attractive option,
because it is an industry standard and I am very familiar with it. However, I eventually switched
to Citrix XenServer. XenServer was chosen because of its price and prebuilt compatibility with
XenDesktop and Citrix’s other products. While attempting to use ESXi, I ran into a variety of
problems. One problem was the requirement to purchase and install vCenter; the other problem
was the need to purchase an SSL certificate. Both of these requirements added to the overall cost
of my project. Thus, I settled for XenServer and it worked without any additional purchases or
configuration. Due to budget issues, I used the equipment I borrowed free of charge. The specs
for my “server” were an i7 Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM. In a production environment, I would
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recommend buying several servers that are designed for virtualization in order to cluster them to
create a more professional and failover design.
The XenDesktop and XenApp server is actually hosted on real server hardware. My
Citrix server is running in a Windows Server 2012 virtual machine hosted by an ESXi server.
The hardware specs for that machine were 16 cores, 64GB of RAM, and a fiber storage solution.
The theoretical network design and the actual design that was used to demonstrate this
project were very different. My thin client backend was built on UC’s network, and not the
sandbox. Since I do not have any control over the UC network, I had to make some adaptations.
In a real environment, I would isolate the thin clients from the network connected to the Internet.
This serves two functions: it prevents hackers from directly accessing the thin client hardware;
further, it forces the user to go through the XenApp or XenDesktop service. This allows
administrators to have more control over the network’s traffic and what users are capable of
doing based on their credentials. The sessions that the users access, can be restricted to what
applications they can run and even to which network they are allowed to connect. This can be a
great tool to prevent data theft by employees. Isolating a user based on who they are can stop
hackers from gaining access to the whole network if they manage to infect a machine.
8
Network Diagram
Figure 1: Network Design
Physical Design of Client
The prototype for this project was built with a minimalist design in mind. The computer
case serves two functions: it holds the computer components, and it acts as a monitor stand. The
structure is made out of steel sheet metal, which is then assembled into a computer mount. This
9
allowed me to create something compact. This metal work would have to be contracted out by a
manufacturer. Even though the cost of material is low, an IT professional cannot be expected to
buy heavy machinery to complete this task.
Client Prototype Method
For this prototype, I used 16 gauge hot roll steel, which is thicker than the metal used to
make cars and light trucks. While this material is extremely sturdy, it is not very malleable.
When the sheet was purchased, the dimensions were 24 by 36 inches. I used a hydraulic metal
shear to cut the sheet into smaller sections, which were then bent into shape using a metal brake.
The bent parts were then welded, bolted, or riveted into place to make a permanent bond between
the components. Next, I proceeded to cut an existing ITX back plate and attached it within the
frame of the commuter case. I could have drilled the metal mounts directly into the frame itself,
but that would have required precision drilling and specific tools to thread the holes.
Figure 2: Thin Client Design
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While reading this, it is quickly understood that it would consume too much time and
energy to create these inside an organization. This is why this part of the project would have to
be done by a manufacturer. Sheet metal work and construction are not the job of an IT
professional. My goal would be to mass produce these cases. These computer cases might
interest people outside of the thin client industry, as they can be used in a wide variety of
environments. The standardizations of an “all-in-one” computer mount could directly compete
with traditional thin clients and all-in-one computers that use nonstandard parts. The mass
production of parts that could be used in both thin and thick clients could reduce the overall cost
of manufacturing.
Cost of Prototype
The prices shown below are based on retail prices. If the thin client prototype were built
commercially, the cost per unit would be reduced by wholesale discounts. The cost of
manufacturing is not included. Manufacturing costs could differ depending on how and where
the units are built. In order to reduce costs, the final product would most likely use plastic instead
of steel.
Part
Motherboard
RAM 2GB
Power Supply
HDD
Sheet metal
Model
ECS CDC-I/D2550
KVR13S9S6/2
RAIDMAX RX-380K
380W
Seagate SATA2 250GB
16 gauge steel
Price
$69.99
$17.99
$16.99
$29.95
$15.00
Table 1: Thin Client Cost
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User Profile
The users will interact with a simple interface that will require little to no training on their
part. Initially, the users will need to learn how to start their remote sessions, but once the
sessions start, they will be greeted with the same Windows interface they are used to. An
administrator will also use a familiar Windows Server interface to control their network using
Citrix Studio, which is a well-designed interface that makes administration much more intuitive.
Use Case Diagram
Figure 3: Use Case Diagram
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Budget
The budget for a thin client project will vary depending on a variety of variables. Vendors
may provide discounts, depending on the size and the type of the organization. Large volume and
education clients are usually given discounts on licenses and hardware. Software licensing is a
complex process that should be discussed with a vendor’s licensing department. The size of a
deployment and its level of redundancy will affect the cost of a project.
This is an estimate for a retail-priced small thin-client network for a hundred users:
XenServer
6.5
Enterprise
XenDesktop
Entreprise
Windows
Server 2012
R2 Standard
User
CAL(only
used for
XenApp
and RDS)
VDI license
HP
ProLiant
ML350
Networking
Equipment
Grand Total
Price
USD
$1,525
Units Total
Comment
2
The Enterprise version is only needed for
accelerated graphics and other features. A free
version is available.
Retail Price.
$3050
$159.96 100
$15996
$882
2
$1764
One license is used for the Citrix server, and one is
for the remote desktop service instance.
$109
75
$8175
Number of units will vary whenever RDS or VDI is
selected.
$100
25
$2500
Number of units will vary whenever RDS or VDI is
selected.
Two servers will be used for redundancy.
$10,255 2
$20510
$4,000
$4000
n/a
Various networking equipment (switches, firewalls,
routers).
$55,995 For a 100 user
Table 2: Backend cost
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Some institutions will receive significant discounts on these retail prices. Additionally, Microsoft
VDI licenses fees may be waived by Microsoft when under the Software Assurance program.
The grand total estimate above is for a small thin client solution for a hundred users.
Technical Challenges and Limitations
Though thin-client solutions are great tools for administrators, they are not perfect. Some
graphic-intensive applications do not run properly in a virtual environment because they are
either not compatible with vGPU, or they need access to direct hardware. In some instances,
applications simply refuse to virtualize because the software developers used DRM, which is
incompatible with thin-client environments. It is also important to realize that thin-clients
connected across the internet will need enough bandwidth to create a desktop-like experience.
This requirement also applies to local area networks. This issue requires an user to analyze their
current network’s capabilities, which could in some instances lead to necessary upgrades.
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Gantt Charts
15
16
Figure 4: Timeline
Testing
The function of this project will be tested manually by creating an administrator and an
user account to verify that the tasks are indeed possible. In a production environment,
administrators log in as both themselves and as test users to check for potential issues on a daily
basis. The IT department should also allow their users to provide negative feedback when an
issue arises.
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Test
Create
User
Delete
User
Create
Group
Create VDI
Desktop
for Users
Create
Terminal
service
pools
Deploy
Application
to users
Set
application
to specific
groups
Access
VDI
Desktop
Access TS
Desktop
Access
Personal
Files
Personal
VDI
Session
Role
Admin
Result
Positive
Admin
Positive
Admin
Positive
Admin
Positive
Admin
Positive
Admin
Positive
Admin
Positive
User
Positive
User
Positive
User
Positive
User
Positive
Table 3: Test Results
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Conclusion
While thin-clients are great solutions for administrators, they are often expensive. The
licensing and hardware costs can be prohibitive. However, with the use of open source software
and more affordable hardware, thin-clients can quickly become an attractive option to many
administrators. The centralized management of thin clients provides a simplified process of
client management and security. With the use of Linux and standardized hardware, I was able to
create a more affordable client that can be used, updated, and customized by organizations. The
implementation of thin clients can increase compliance and security, which results in a safer and
more productive workplace.
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Work Cited
Ellrod, Craig Thomas. Getting Started with XenDesktop 7.x Deliver Desktops and Applications
to Your End Users, Anywhere, Anytime, with XenDesktop 7.x. Birmingham, U.K.: Packt
Pub., 2014. Print.
"Microsoft VDI and Windows VDA." Microsoft VDI and Windows VDA. Mircosoft, 26 Mar.
2012. Web. 2 Apr. 2015. <http://download.microsoft.com/download/1/1/4/114A45DDA1F7-4910-81FD-6CAF401077D0/Microsoft VDI and VDA FAQ v3 0.pdf>.
Silvestri, Gaspare. Citrix XenDesktop 7 Cookbook. Packt, 2014. Print.
Roebuck, Kevin. Green IT High-impact Strategies - What You Need to Know: Definitions,
Adoptions, Impact, Benefits, Maturity, Vendors. Dayboro: Emereo Pub., 2012. Print.
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