VA to bulk up its thin client use

Can thin clients make a comeback?

The Veterans Affairs Department is planning a new test of thin-client computers to lower costs and improve security, adding to the thousands of thin clients the agency already uses.

The department wants to field 20,000 so-called "dumb terminals" in six hospitals and 29 clinics, reports Bob Brewin in NextGov. Right now, about 15 percent to 20 percent of the agency's 320,000 computers are on a thin-client configuration, said Jeff Lush, executive chief technology officer for enterprise infrastructure engineering in VA’s Office of Information and Technology, in an interview with FedTech published in May.

Thin clients were a popular computing model in the 1990s. The end-user's terminal is comprised of essentially a monitor and input devices. The computing power and data storage is in a remote server that multiple terminals connect to. However, while the idea itself is old, it's similar to cloud computing in some respects.

VA wants white papers from vendors for the planned thin-client expansion by Oct. 22, Brewin writes. The papers should cover the latest architectural and planning considerations for thin clients, desktop virtualization and cloud computing.

Thin clients "won't go very far in satisfying end users unless they offer the same utility, applications and fast response times as the more familiar PC," Brewin writes, citing "a VA clinician who declined to be identified."

To deal with that, VA will use desktop virtualization to give users access to all the applications they're used to having on a desktop, Brewin reported. It's just that the software will be housed and processed on the remote server.

Thin-client configurations generally cost about 25 percent as much as full desktop computers, said David Bates, deputy director of VA’s OI&T National IT Training Academy, in the FedTech article. And because they have no hard drives, they erase security worries about data leaks and stolen information.

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