Maintaining standalone desktop PCs is expensive. Each one requires software updates, an antivirus license, and administration such as printer installations. When they fail, you scramble for repair parts or a replacement PC. When it comes time to upgrade, new units start around five-hundred dollars each, then — on average — require several hours from IT staff to configure and deploy. To make matters worse, there is frequently little consistency of software and settings from one PC to the other, which can make it difficult for users to transition from one machine to another.
Even many IT professionals take if for granted that every workstation requires a standalone PC, but most business can slash their standalone PC count (and all the associated negatives) by deploying inexpensive terminals that connect to Windows Remote Desktop Service (RDS).
With Remote Desktop Service, you deploy a single server that takes the place of the “brains” of many standalone PCs. You only have to install software, add printers, or perform an update once on the server, and all of the terminals benefit. The terminals are ‘dumb’ (i.e. they do not contain the software and settings you rely on). They connect to the server over the network to get their desktop, software, start menu, printer settings, and more.
Terminals are typically much cheaper and more reliable than standalone PCs, because the terminals don’t require hard drives, fast CPU’s, or very much memory. Because none of your files or settings reside on them, when they die you can change them out about as easily as you would a lightbulb. It is inexpensive to keep several spare terminals on hand, and each spare is universally and immediately ready.
Besides reducing IT expenses, terminals can significantly boost user productivity. Terminals frequently improve computing performance since the server has more resources available than an alternative standalone PC would. Additionally, consistency of software and settings means users can find what they need more easily, and features are more likely to work as expected.
Remote Desktop and terminals aren’t just for big companies. Even small businesses can reap enormous benefits from converting a small number of PCs to terminals. One common fear is that terminals will increase complexity or dependence on specialized IT expertise. Our experience, however, has been precisely the opposite. We deploy terminals whenever possible, but ESPECIALLY to locations without easy access to IT staff. Remote locations — more so than anywhere else — can avoid costly challenges and downtime thanks to the interchangeability and simplified management.
There are a few caveats to the decision to convert a PC to a terminal. Many video and audio applications simply don’t run well on a terminal. Terminals may be OK for occasionally watching a YouTube video, but you certainly wouldn’t want to watch (let alone edit) a movie on one. You also wouldn’t want to do any major CAD work on a terminal, although you could probably get by with occasional viewing of CAD parts. To our surprise, we have seen some of the video conferencing solutions (such as GoToMeeting) work fairly well within terminal sessions.
You also need to consider software licensing in any decision to convert to terminals. Many software applications (such as Microsoft Office) have special requirements for use on a terminal. Additionally, if an application is only needed on a single (or a few) PCs, you don’t want to be committed to purchasing a copy of the software for the terminals that don’t need it. There are several potential ways around this, including setting-up a separate terminal server, restricting the software to only run on user accounts that are restricted to the authorized terminals, or simply using a standalone PC for the locations that need the specialized software. The right answer depends on a lot of factors, not the least of which includes the terms of the software licensing agreement(s).
Terminals have the potential to reinvent your IT systems. Please don’t let concerns about video or software license decisions deter you from exploring the conversion to Remote Desktop terminals. There is so much to gain in exchange for doing a little bit of homework.