How I Stumbled Into the Perfect Thin Client Technology

I have been working with Citrix XenDesktop as our VDI platform of choice for several years now. The backend technology is great, it’s fast, stable and easy to administrator. I’ve also looked at VMware View, but it was years ago and back then it was not nearly as baked. From what I’m reading these days it seems like it’s come a long way and it has grown in to a solid platform as well. While the debate about which platform is better will continue among administrators for some time, I thought it would be fun to take a look at the front end of our VDI systems of choice. Yes, that’s right the “Thin” client. It’s not as sexy as the platform but it is what our end users see and touch every day. This post is basically a rundown of how I luck sacked my way into finding the perfect solution.

My crew has spent a lot of time working with various manufactures products in this market. We started with testing out various 10zig, Wyse (Dell), and HP models. Each manufacture had some great features we liked, and a bunch we hated.

When we started our process we were searching for a few key things for our environment. Being we were going to order 1,000 or so units by the time our conversion and Epic implementation was over we wanted some specific things.

1. Great enterprise management.
2. Management features like profiles, reporting, full control of the device.
3. Fast, Stable firmware for non-windows embedded options.
4. Various levels of models with the same or similar form factor with a range of CPU and video options.
5. Full USB 2.0 and 3.0 support with enough ports.
6. VESA mountable
7. Smartcard reader
8. Capable of supporting audio dictation via a USB headset/mic.
9. Compatible with Imprivata’s One Sign SSO System (Native support is a bonus!).
10. Quiet and fanless.
11. Longevity/Upgrade-ability – Long term support.
….

There were a bunch more but those are the highlights. Most of the other features were really more specifics around the management side things.

We started our journey with Wyse units and the Wyse WDM (Wyse Device Manager) in 2012. The first units we got in where 3050-T50 and the Cx0. They did some goofy things on boot and networking was doing some strange DHCP things and they were overall pretty chatty. The units were a bit ugly, hard to mount without purchase of special brackets and did not have enough USB ports or DVI outputs. They also did not work well at all when trying to use USB devices to dictate. We also did not like the WDM software from the start. The workgroup edition is free but if you want some key features you pay per unit for the enterprise version. At the time it was $80.00 per unit and I think that’s still accurate. This extra charge really started to add to the price of these lower end models. We wanted to look at some higher end models but once you looked at the cost of the management per unit and the brackets we were really turned off.

 

Wyse Cx0

cx0

 

Wyse 3050-T50

T50

We really tried to work with these units for a good 6 months and we ended up deploying about 100 or so in our production environments but we just never felt they were good enough. The audio and video was terrible and the extra cost of the WDM system and it’s lack of features was a bit of a frustration.

We then got in some 10Zig units. We started working with these and immediately had some issues with the build quality. Several of the units we purchased for testing were just broken. When we cracked them open we found some pretty shoddy build quality. This may have been an isolated case but it started us off on the wrong foot. We also had several issues with wireless due to the internal antenna just wiggling loose on the connection posts. Once we got the hardware operational we started running them through the paces. We did like the management system, It was pretty decent and hit most of our points. It also did not cost more.

At the same time we were also looking at several HP units which seemed like they were pretty slick. They had what we considered better CPU’s and overall a solid unit. They were a bit more expensive, but not out of line. What did hold us back was the management part. It was combination of Landesk and/or system center plug-ins and it seemed pretty steep. We were already using system center config manager in our environment to manage the ageing fleet of physical machines we were replacing at a rapid pace. Investing more time and money into it was not really where we wanted to be.

Then in 2014 a few of us were in LA for Citrix Synergy and we found the IGEL booth. Running across this booth has been one of the best things that happened for our end users and us as administrators. This booth was smaller but they were showing off this line of thin clients. They had this sweet 24″ touch screen model with the whole unit enclosed, called the UD10. The UD10 and the UD3 were really standouts for us. The UD3 had a decent processor, dual DVI video inputs, good video chipset, the smartcard reader, lots of USB ports, was easy to mount and fanless. Basically, all the hardware points we had been looking for. The UD10 touch screen was really well suited to what we were looking at for a potential patient room setup. A 1080 display that would work well with Epic and uncluttered the arms and stands we were using around our healthcare clinic. They also had integrated features with Imprivata our SSO vendor. While the hardware seemed perfectly suited for our needs what really got us was the firmware and management software.

IGEL UD10
UD10

IGEL UD3
IZ_UD3_Peripherals_ENI_94c7a1650e

The firmware is a linux based distro they call the IGEL Universal Desktop. It runs on all the products in their line so it’s truly more Universal than most “Universal” solutions. The really cool feature is the fact that you can take it and run it on non-IGEL hardware AND manage it in their UMS (IGEL Universal Management Suite). We had to play with this, we had a good chunk of physical machines that would work really well if we could just turn them into thin clients rather than waiting to age them out of the fleet and replace them with new thin clients. We could push our adoption rate and our timelines if this thing really worked like they said it would. We came back from the convention pretty excited to see what we could do.

First thing we did is get a few UD3 and UD10 units in house so we could explore the hardware and the management system. We installed it on a Windows VM in our farm, no big deal at all. It integrated with AD for authentication all pretty standard, typical stuff. The management software itself is super solid. As IGEL units are stood up on the network you can scan network ranges and they will auto register. They report in and show all the info about the unit. You can organize them into folder structures and sites with just easy drag and drop. All great and easy to use stuff. There is tons of native support for XenApp, XenDesktop, View and tons more.

IGEL session configuration screen
sessions

It’s easy to setup and even better you can create profiles and just assign them to your folder structures or individual units. You can even attach payloads to the profiles so you can deliver things like SSL certs. You can even setup master profiles and use sub-profiles. You can pretty much customize any and everything.

We have also tested non-IGEL hardware using their Firmware/OS and it’s been really great overall. There are a few driver issues with some hardware but it’s been pretty minimal, mostly based around specific chipsets (no Linux driver available). We had one model we tested that would not work due to those driver issues but overall we have been thrilled with this feature. It does cost a unit license to do this (it’s all free on native IGEL hardware) but it’s super cheap, way less than the $80 per Wyse wants to manage it’s own hardware in it’s system.

We have now pushed out hundreds of these units and we are doing more as fast as we can. These things run great, are super easy to manage and update. The integration with Citrix and Imprivatra is outstanding! We have also converted newer physical machines over and that feature has been key in moving users forward toward a very consistent environment. We have also started working with the new UD6 units which are a bit bigger than the UD3 in terms of video and CPU. We don’t have a huge need for a bunch of multi-media at this point but we have some ideas on how we can make this work with imaging. Imaging in healthcare has been a real pain when it comes to virtualization of applications in general but we are working on some cool solutions, but I’ll save that for a later date.

If your looking for a solid solution on the end user side of your VDI or Application Virtualization environments I highly recommend the IGEL line. The hardware is great and the software is even better.

Please Note: This is not a paid endorsement, I don’t work for or have any vested interest in IGEL. This is merely our clinic’s story, nothing more. Opinions of products in this post are those of the author not of Bend Memorial Clinic.

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5 thoughts on “How I Stumbled Into the Perfect Thin Client Technology

  1. Very informative article.

    Have you looked at one of IGEL’s security technology partner’s, DriveLock for Device Control and Encryption of data on thumb drives? Within the UMS there is a DriveLock Virtual Channel which when enabled allows the (purchased) DriveLock software to enforce granular policy on device(s) down to serial by user and enforce encryption as required. Great for org’s that need to comply with HIPAA.

  2. Nice post Allen! Hope things are going well, looks like you’ve really progressed down the road to deploying a great thin client and virtual desktop architecture! Great work!

    • Thanks Chris – it’s been a road. Dumping Allscripts has been the best move ever. Really a big, much needed, shift in culture. Good to hear from you.

  3. Allen, really nice write-up! We are looking to refresh our thin client line up as well, and I stopped by the IGEL booth at Synergy this year in Orlando. One specific item we are looking for is support for Flash redirection / offload. I’d love to connect and discuss if you’re available. Thanks!

    • Thanks Tim, I missed Synergy this year due to our conversion project taking up so much of our time. We have played around a bit with this. Let me know how to get a hold of you, more than happy to discuss.

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