Tech Tip – Thin Client Pros and Cons

Filed Under (Work) by Laura Smith on 29-09-2010

In my computer lab, we use a thin client system.  I have 30 total workstations, but only 9 computers in the room.  The teacher workstation is standalone, as is the print server, but the other 28 monitors are shared 4 to a computer.  We achieve this using NComputing boxes.  They look like little hubs, and attach to each monitor, connecting it to a special network card in the controlling computer.

Image credit: http://www.zdnet.co.uk/i/z5/rv/2008/02/ncomputing_x300_1_432x315.jpg

There are many benefits to using this system.  First of all, I love the way they save space.  No big bulky towers all over the place.  Second, there is energy savings – much cheaper to power 9 computers than 30!  Obviously, there is hardware savings – again, only purchasing 9 computers vs. 30, and replacement costs are kept down as upgrades are needed.  I also like the fact that if I have any software installs or system changes to make, I can get it done a lot faster.  It’s a giant pain to install software on an ENTIRE LAB of computers one…at…a…time.

However, I’ve recently come upon some drawbacks.  When one student workstation freezes (because the student has opened 25 instances of Microsoft Word because they kept clicking and clicking instead of waiting patiently for it to open! @#$!) they all freeze.  And it takes a while for them to recover.  Longer than 20 Kindergarteners want it to.

But the most annoying problem is the fact that when students log into online accounts, their workstations get all confused and they end up either a) Unable to log in, or b) Inadvertently switching between accounts of those seated at their shared thin clients.  This is a major problem, because I use a lot of web 2.0 tools where students have to log in to an account.

So here is what I did to fix it.  I installed 4 different browsers on each station.  Chrome (my personal favorite, and yes, its by Google), Safari, Internet Explorer, and Mozilla Firefox.  I labeled each monitor with one of those four browsers so each computer has one monitor for each browser.  Then, when the students log into their accounts, they won’t have login issues as long as they are all on different browsers.

Too complicated? Maybe.  Does anyone know of a better way to solve this problem?  If so, I’d love to hear it!

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