Solihull Council Goes For Thin Clients

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Thin clients instead of PCs saves on management costs and cuts Solihull council’s carbon footprint

Solihull Council has begun shifting to thin clients to avoid expensive PC upgrades and cut its environmental footprint.

The council has around 250 thin clients, which display applications running on servers, avoiding the management hassle of PCs and increasing the IT staff’s control. So far they are in use in contact centres, libraries and social care locations.

Thin clients finally take off

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Thin clients, proposed in the 1990s, replace complex PCs with simpler devices while running programs on central servers. An echo of older terminal-based systems, they have since found more popularity as the concepts of virtualisation and cloud computing have promoted the idea of running applications remotely.

The contact centre’s PCs were nearing the end of their life, and the council chose a move from temporary offices as an opportunity to move to thin clients, something it had been planning for some time.”When the new offices were kitted out, we said let’s bite the bullet and make it a thin client building,” said Ken Wilkes, senior technical consultant, Solihull Council.

Solihull is using Citrix to distribute the desktops, and chose Thinspace thin clients, as these allowed call-centre staff to work on two screens without having to buy an extra adapter, explained Wilkes.

The council has an estate of around 2000 PCs and 500 laptops, and is planning to replace most of these with thin clients as they reach the end of their life. “There’s always a percentage that can’t use thin clients,” said Wilkes. “Some have peripherals that are not Citrix aware, such as heavy-duty scanners, and some have applications which are heavy in memory usage, but we plan to replace 80 to 90 percent with thin clients.”

Wilkes hopes to get six to ten years of life out of the new thin clients, and expects to save a lot on administration costs, since the desktop images can be managed centrally. There should also be a power saving – the thin clients use about 15W of power, compared with 150W for a desktop. Even taking into account the power demands of the central servers, he expects to save around 100W per desktop. The central servers support five virtual servers, and around 150 users each, needing around 1.4kW.

Virtual desktops also made it possible to use hot-desking. Solihull hopes that seven staff will share ten desks according to who is in the office at a given time.

Security helped swing it

The decision to go with thin clients was also a result of pressure on security, said Wilkes. The government has set out a code of conduct for connecting to its extranet, and this can mean a lot of work on individual PCs.

The Citrix-based solution also helps secure people working at home: “users can connect to the Citrix desktop from home to get the same experience,” said Wilkes, although they have to use an encrypted VPN to access the central services, and can’t use all the applications they can in the office.

The council has several options to look at for the future, said Wilkes, including a fully virtualised desktop using Citrix XenDesktop – though this uses more resources -and the use of secure USB devices for home workers.

Also, if money gets any tighter, Wilkes has a backup plan to save money over the thin client devices, and sweat his assets further. “Ideally we want to give everyone the same thin clients to save support costs, but we could use PCs if the government takes any more money away from us,” he said. “Some PCs aren’t that old – we could redeploy them to people that still need PCs, or else reconfigure them as locked-down Windows devices to work with Citrix.”

“We’re trying any way to save money here and there,” said Wilkes. In the case of thin clients, it’s worth paying money up-front, he said: “The hardware will last for a good five to six years, and when we do come to replace the thin clients, they are cheaper to replace than a PC.”

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