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Differences in thin client support across VDI vendors

The thin client support that virtualization vendors provide is often changing, and IT professionals must understand that each vendor takes a unique approach to thin clients.

Organizations that deliver VDI-hosted desktops to thin clients must consider which thin clients their VDI supports and any limitations that come with it.

It's common for organizations to use a variety of device types, so IT must ensure that a client is available for any device that needs to access a virtual desktop. Virtualization vendors offer a range of VDI features and thin client support, and it is crucial that IT evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of its existing virtualization systems.

Windows Virtual Desktops

Microsoft's support for virtual desktops has evolved considerably over the years. Early on, the company offered Microsoft Terminal Server for running remote applications on Windows. However, the terminal services were based on a Windows Server OS, not a desktop OS. Later, Microsoft introduced true VDI support through its Remote Desktop Services (RDS) offering.

RDS is still available in Windows Server, but Microsoft is now pushing customers to adopt the Azure-hosted Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) offering. IT can use the RDP client that is included with Windows 10 as a thin client component for accessing WVD. In addition, vendors such as IGEL offer thin clients that are specifically designed to work with Windows. IGEL also offers a unique type of thin client support: a universal desktop converter that can convert certain old PC models into a thin client.

Amazon WorkSpaces

The Amazon WorkSpaces offering targets organizations that would rather have their virtual desktops hosted in the cloud than maintain on-premises infrastructure. Amazon offers WorkSpaces clients for several different platforms, including Android, Chromebook, iPad, Linux, MacOS and Windows. Amazon also offers a Web client application and a PC over IP zero client.

All the Amazon WorkSpaces clients the company offers support USB keyboards and mice. Windows and MacOS clients also support USB audio headsets and USB printers, but the thin client support lacks any additional peripherals, such as USB storage devices or webcams.

Citrix clients

Citrix takes a different approach to thin clients. This vendor has three different categories of thin client devices: HDX, HDX Premium and HDX 3D Pro. Citrix and its partners offer a wide variety of thin client devices that conform to these standards. In addition, IGEL offers a software-based solution for connecting to XenDesktop.

RDS is still available in Windows Server, but Microsoft is now pushing customers to adopt the Azure-hosted WVD offering.

The Citrix HDX Ready category of thin client devices is entry level and suitable for use with virtual desktops running business software that is not overly demanding. Office 365 applications, for example, are well suited for use on an HDX device.

HDX Premium devices are intended to run applications that require more CPU and other resources than a typical desktop application. For instance, a user that wants to perform high-definition video conferencing would need an HDX Premium device.

HDX 3D devices are Citrix's offering for organizations that need to run graphically intensive applications. These might include computer-aided design applications or applications with 3D graphics.

VMware Horizon

VMware Horizon, the vendor's VDI offering, is available in three different editions. Horizon Standard offers basic VDI capabilities; Horizon Advanced is similar to Horizon Standard with additional support for unified workspaces, XA, Remote Desktop Session Host, SaaS and VMware ThinApp. Horizon Enterprise adds capabilities such as Linux support, health monitoring and performance analytics through VMware vRealize, and support for VMware's virtual SAN.

VMware provides clients for various platforms, including Windows, MacOS, Linux, iOS, Android and Chrome OS. Unlike some of the other VDI clients, the VMware thin client support covers the redirection of several different types of external devices.

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