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What types of management are available for thin client OSes?

Thin client OSes present opportunities to run virtual desktop environments more efficiently, but they come with management decisions and challenges as well.

IT administrators must make sure that their end user environment is secure and reliable -- this is the case for all types of OSes including thin client OSes.

Thin clients need management, and these management needs can be quite different depending on the type of device or thin client OS being used. There are a lot of ways out there to give you the correct management for your company.

What are thin client OSes and how can IT manage them?

Thin client OSes can be divided into two groups: Linux-based and Windows-based. Each of these OSes have their own management option. Most commonly, the supplier of the thin client -- such as Igel, HP or Dell -- provides its own management software. Igel provides its own Universal Management Suite for its thin clients, HP has its Cloud Endpoint Manager and Dell uses the Wyse Management Suite.

Managing a thin client is often more than just deploying some updates. Most thin client management software systems support configuring the thin client. This can include settings around power and sleep, pushing a storefront service to the system or deploying configurations to all the clients. These days, thin clients can also be laptops, so management software might configure things like Wi-Fi networks. Configuring which networks the endpoints are allowed to connect to and preprogramming passwords for corporate networks are important controls to keep in mind as well.

Some management software is simple and requires just one configuration file on the network that all the thin clients check to find the latest configurations. Other thin client management platforms are more involved and require the creation of images that administrators must flash onto the thin clients via the corporate network. The latter is more common with Windows thin clients.

Managing a thin client is often more than just deploying some updates. Most thin client management software systems support configuring the thin client.

Most management software can use automation to perform these tasks and simplify the process for IT administrators. This was not always the case, as administrators used to manually flash a new image from a USB stick onto 200 thin clients once a month. Thin client management software can also help IT deploy security updates via flashing the image, which is another way these technologies can save IT admins time.

On Windows-based thin clients, there are typically several lockdown options. This can include settings such as which type of devices users are allowed to connect to the thin client, what websites the device can access or whether a user is allowed to change settings to the mouse and monitor. The settings can even apply to a granular level, allowing users only on approved sites.

Thin clients are similar to IoT devices and their OSes, as IT admins also manage them centrally with basic controls and inputs. The biggest difference is that most IoT devices don't require a GUI for end users. But some IoT hardware, such as Raspberry PI, can function and be managed in the same way as an IoT Raspberry PI endpoint.

What are the ways to manage different thin client OSes?

Many manufacturers of thin clients have their own management software, but IT can also use third-party software. Some examples of these tools include ThinManager, OpenThinClient and JYOS. Some come with their own Linux OS for the managed thin clients or any device that admins use as a thin client. Admins can use software to convert a normal PC to a thin client and then manage it centrally. This is a viable feature that can transform a work PC to a thin client in case that is ever needed. There are even network boot versions of this software, such as WTware.

Another way to convert a laptop or PC to a work thin client is with a bootable USB stick like the Igel UD Pocket. Admins can manage the UD Pocket within the Igel Universal Management Suite as if it were a typical thin client. This way, IT administrators can deliver a fully managed and safe work environment even on a personal Windows endpoint.

One more management approach for thin client OSes is Microsoft Intune. A lot of current business software requires the end user to authenticate at the OS level. And single sign-on (SSO) is a very common approach to authentication that can improve user experience and security.

This creates some issues with the deployment of Microsoft Teams -- a common unified communications platform in the enterprise. Teams requires users to authenticate based on a local profile, but this isn't possible with a typical thin client OS and hardware setup because the desktop resets after each session. This would lead to a longer sign-in time -- even with SSO -- at the start of each session.

To use Teams more efficiently, some organizations change out their thin clients for next unit of computing (NUC) devices. These mini-PCs have a similar form factor to thin clients and often are made up of the same hardware. But NUCs run the full Windows 10 or 11 OS and admins can manage them like any other Windows device with Intune. This delivers a stronger user experience in which the user signs into the OS and has access to Teams and any other app that is connected with Entra ID (formerly Azure Active Directory).

There is also a mode in which Intune can sign a PC in with a guest account and then only allow the use of one application -- for example, a web browser -- that can only go to the storefront portal such as Citrix NetScaler. This is called Windows Kiosk mode and can turn a Windows 10 or 11 device into a thin client experience.

Chris Twiest works as a technology officer at RawWorks in the Netherlands, focusing on the standardization and automation of IT services.

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