More tools for converting PCs to thin clients

You don't need to replace all your PCs to move to virtual desktops. Here are six non-Windows tools to help you convert old hardware to thin clients for desktop virtualization.

Last week, we explored ways to repurpose old client hardware as thin clients using Windows-based tools. This week, it's all about the non-Windows based methods.

These six tools from some popular and lesser-known vendors all work with VMware View, Citrix XenDesktop/XenApp and Microsoft Remote Desktop (unless otherwise noted).

Devon IT VDI Blaster
Devon IT may not be well known, but it has worked some big name vendors over the years -- including IBM and Dell. Devon IT is probably best known for its thin client hardware, but it also makes a PC conversion product called VDI Blaster.

VDI Blaster can be installed via a Windows executable on the box, which creates a small partition used to house Devon IT's DeTOS thin client operating system without harming the Windows installation. You can also install it on a USB stick or directly to a hard drive without Windows.

After reboot, DeTOS launches and the machine effectively becomes a Devon IT thin client. Windows is still on the box, but is not available to the user (unless you want them to know it's there). From there, the device can be managed the same way as other Devon IT thin clients -- with the Devon IT Echo Management Software.

VDI Blaster retails for $29.99/device and can be purchased at Devon IT's website.

Wyse PC Extender
Similar to VDI Blaster in that it places a thin client OS on a "fat" desktop, Wyse PC Extender is based on SUSE Linux Enterprise Thin Client version 11. While this may not be the same OS available on other Wyse thin clients, it is manageable from the same location as all of Wyse's other thin clients: Wyse Device Manager.

Wyse PC Extender retails for around $40/device, but it's available through channel partners, so your mileage may vary.

Wyse WSM and Cloud PCs
Another offering from Wyse is the WSM solution, which allows you to create a "Cloud PC" (yeah, that's what they call it). It probably should have been in last week's article, since it deals with Windows, but better late than never.

Basically, WSM streams both the Windows OS and applications to a stateless PC (that's the "Cloud PC" part), where everything will live and be executed from memory. It supports both full and embedded versions of Windows XP Pro, Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Wyse WSM has two prices, one for Wyse-branded "Cloud PCs" and one for non-Wyse machines. The Wyse-branded machine retail price for WSM is around $200/device, and the non-branded machine retail price is around $250/device. Like PC Extender, it is also available through channel partners.

Stratodesk NoTouch
Stratodesk, formerly Liscon, wants to be the ultimate, flexible thin client solution. The company's NoTouch product repurposes x86 hardware as thin clients. You can install NoTouch on thin clients from different manufacturers, as well as your old PCs, and manage them all from the same management console (NoTouch Center).

NoTouch is available from the company's website and prices start at $31.49 for one to 10 clients, decreasing from there.

2X ThinClientServer
The company 2X has been around for many years, but I don't know of too many people who use its products.

Its ThinClientServer is easily deployed via PXE, CD, USB stick or direct hard drive installation. VMware View and Citrix XenDesktop are supported, but there is no mention of PCoIP, which leads me to believe that View is supported with RDP only.

2X ThinClientServer is priced at $23.80 per user for the first 25 users (sold as a 25-license pack for $595) with discounts as more licenses are purchased.

ThinStation is one of a few free and open source solutions on the market. There are a few others mentioned in the next section, but ThinStation is the best documented and most updated solution out there with updates as recent as June 28, 2011.

It supports all of the major desktop virtualization systems, including XenApp/XenDesktop, View, Remote Desktop, NoMachine and 2X (they have a server solution, too). It also comes with several terminal solutions built in.

ThinStation can run off the network via PXE, or from USB, LiveCD, or hard drive installations. It's available for free from ThinStation's website.

There are several other products that aren't frequently maintained or are hard to find information about online. If you're in the market to convert PCs and don't mind a bit of a challenge, do some searching for MultiFrame, ThinWin and Cult. All of these have some presence on the Web, but those locations appear to be moving targets with little information. Still, it might be up your alley at the right price.

The takeaway from these PC-to-thin client articles is that you don't need to replace all the hardware in your organization to move to virtual desktops. There are plenty of tools out there to help you find that happy place between "unmanaged endpoint wasteland" and having to manage two instances of Windows for every person (one in the data center and one on the desktop). Any of the tools mentioned in these two articles can help you get the most out of your existing investment and save you from buying all new hardware before you need to.

Note: There are a lot of packages out there, and it's hard to keep track of which ones are still being maintained, let alone keep up with any new ones. If you're aware of any that didn't make the list, shoot me an email or leave a note in the comments.

Read more from Gabe Knuth

Gabe Knuth
is an independent industry analyst and blogger, known throughout the world as "the other guy" at BrianMadden.com. He has been in the application delivery space for over 12 years and has seen the industry evolve from the one-trick pony of terminal services to the application and desktop virtualization of today. Gabe's focus tends to lean more toward practical, real-world technology in the industry, essentially boiling off the hype and reducing solutions to their usefulness in today's corporate environments. 

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