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August 18, 2014

Turn End-of-Life XP Systems into VDI Thin Clients at Up to 90 Percent Savings

By TMCnet Special Guest
Emanuel Pirker, CEO, Stratodesk Corp.

It’s natural to feel frustrated that support for Windows XP ended as of April 8 of this year. If you are stuck with an aging fleet of Windows XP-based machines, you have three options:

  1. Continue running Windows XP and use firewalls or other strategies to try and shield against threats.
  2. Upgrade to Windows 7 or Windows 8 and buy the more powerful hardware needed to run these operating systems.
  3. Deploy new thin client systems (or repurpose your existing PCs as thin clients) to host a virtual desktop infrastructure.

Option 1 has too many information security risks. Option 2 is expensive and consumes maintenance time and money that could be better spent on more strategic projects.

Option 3 brings your organization new agility and cost-efficiency—especially when you repurpose your existing Windows XP systems as virtual desktop thin clients. This latter step can save you up to 90 percent compared to the cost of buying new thin clients.

Let’s review the strategy of repurposing PCs by answering key questions that IT decision makers tend to ask about it.

What’s involved in repurposing PCs?

There are two schools of thought on repurposing a PC into a thin client.

One school would keep Windows on the PC and make it automatically launch the Citrix or VMware virtual desktop client on boot-up. You wouldn’t want to keep high-risk Windows XP, but you could upgrade to Windows 7. The drawback, however, is that any version of Windows 7 would still need to be maintained and updated, and protected with security software.

The other school of thought is to get rid of Windows on endpoints. Windows can be more efficiently maintained on the server that hosts your centralized virtual desktop images. Why have two versions of Windows? Replace it on the endpoint with a low profile operating system such as Linux that converts the PC into a zero or ultrathin client, with no local software or storage.

How can repurposing be tested?

Look for repurposing software that can boot from a USB memory stick, enabling easy testing without affecting Windows or installing any software on your hard drive. If you like what you see, your repurposing software should have a write/overwrite option that deletes Windows when you install it, along with a secure erase/overwrite capability that removes all content on hard drives.

Why not just “freeze” Windows XP and keep using it?

Some software technologies promise to “freeze” your XP configuration, restoring it to its prior state every time it is rebooted to ensure that no permanent changes can be made by malware.

There is still a major risk: hackers run 24/7 automatic scans of networks to detect systems with vulnerabilities such as Windows XP. When a system logs onto a network, it can be infected in minutes, giving malicious code considerable time to copy files and log keystrokes until the next reboot occurs. One infected machine on a network can infect others. Keeping Windows XP, even when “freezing” it, is not a wise move.

When repurposing PCs, how do you avoid vendor lock-in?

Beware of any change that locks you in to proprietary technology. Your PCs didn’t have vendor lock-in—you could buy any PC you wanted, and vendors had to compete for your business. But many thin client vendors offer proprietary management software that restricts you to buying from a limited list of thin clients going forward.

Some thin client vendors also offer PC-repurposing software. This is an entry point for them to talk with prospective customers, whom they will try and upsell to their higher-margin thin clients.

Examine any repurposing software’s specifications closely. If it comes from a hardware vendor, it often has restrictions on the types of thin clients you can buy once your repurposed PCs need replacement—and they eventually will need replacement.

Make sure your thin client management software is vendor and hardware agnostic, enabling you to repurpose your old PCs as well as incorporate any other type of thin client you want to introduce.

Will PC-repurposing software support Wi-Fi?

Your PC-repurposing software should enable users to connect easily to your enterprise Wi-Fi network, as well as other Wi-Fi networks in the field. Does it do this with an easy-to-use interface?

Will your solution support multiple monitors?

Many workers benefit from more than one monitor. Make sure your PC-repurposing solution supports a multi-monitor mode. Also, some solutions support just standard VGA drivers. Look for more flexibility, such as support for CRT, VGA, HDMI, DVI, and DP monitor interfaces.

What are the ultimate benefits of PC-repurposing?

The funds you save on your thin clients can be reinvested—one organization saved $30,000 a year by not having to refresh laptops, enabling it to purchase an all-flash storage array that maximizes VDI performance. Because of the array, they can host compute-intensive applications on user laptops that they didn’t have the power to run before. Repurposing PCs and deploying virtual desktops can add tremendous value to your organization.

Deploying new thin clients

Repurposing existing PCs with flexibility to buy, add and also manage thin clients as needed to expand your network

Typical cost per thin client for hardware, operating system and management software

$300-$400

$40

Cost for 100 clients

$30,000-$40,000

$4,000

Savings

Up to 90%

About the Author: Stratodesk was founded by Emanuel Pirker, a San Francisco based technology entrepreneur with roots in Austria. Emanuel Pirker, a computer science graduate, has been in the field of Server Based Computing, Terminal Services, Remote Desktops for over a decade. 

 
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