In order to make the move to a fully virtualized desktop on thin clients, businesses need to replace existing fat clients. One way to accomplish the move is to replace computers with systems designed as thin clients. However, doing so means throwing away the dollars already invested in computer hardware. Furthermore, it means locking into a thin client strategy because there is no way to turn a thin client system into a fat client machine. No CIO is going to back this all-or-nothing strategy.
Companies could do what they usually do and replace existing hardware with thin clients as machines reach the end of their lifecycle. The problem with this approach is that a particular department, for example, would end up with some users on thin clients and some users on fat clients during the transition, a support nightmare.
Windows Thin PC (WinTPC) is Micorsofts solution to these realities. WinTPC is a locked down version of Windows 7 that allows companies to take existing computers within the organization and turn them into thin clients. Rather than having to overcome the financial and operational disincentive to replace hundreds or thousands of full-scale PCs already in place, IT management can use WinTPC to take the computers already sitting on everyones desk and turn them into thin clients. If thin clients dont work out, systems can be rebuilt as traditional fat client installs.
WinTPC versus Windows Embedded Standard 7
Windows Thin PC and Windows Embedded Standard (WES7) are similar options available from Microsoft to deliver the thin client experience as a replacement for the traditional desktop PC.
Windows Embedded Standard is only available to hardware manufacturers. These OEMs then build and sell thin client devices loaded and configured with WES7. WinTPC, on the other hand, is only available to business as part of Microsoft Software Assurance (SA) to those with a volume licensing agreement with Microsoft. Neither product can be purchased directly.
Both WinTPC and WES7 aim to deliver a thin client experience. WinTPC comes directly from Microsoft. Enterprise features such as BitLocker, AppLocker and DirectAccess are built into the base image. Businesses download WinTPC and roll it out to existing hardware using a standard image.
WES7 comes from OEMs who customize features based upon their hardware solution and customer desires. Whereas WinTPC uses operating system level security and lockdowns to turn a standard PC into a thin client, WES7 comes directly on hardware that is already designed and locked to provide a thin client environment. OEMs can remove unused components of WES7 to make a smaller image.
What Is WinTPC
Microsoft positions WinTPC as a transitional operating system for organizations moving toward thin client computing. The idea is that an organization can take a subset of existing computers and rebuild them as thin clients using WinTPC without having to buy any new hardware or make any locked-in commitment to thin client computing. If thin clients dont work out, IT can just reinstall the regular Windows operating system.
The WinTPC strategy is classic Microsoft. The company knows that there is an interest in thin client computing in the business world. However, businesses are leery of jumping all the way into the thin client pool until they know it will work. With WinTPC Microsoft gives businesses a free way to dip their toe into the world of thin clients.
For example, a CIO can green light a move to thin clients for a single department using WinTPC. There is no cost of acquisition. WinTPC is free as part of SA. The hardware already exists within the company because all of the employees already have regular PCs on their desk. Once the IT department is comfortable rolling out and supporting thin clients, they can move onto to other departments. If it doesnt work out, they format and start over with Windows 7 installed. In this way, CIOs can try Microsoft as a thin client provider without committing to a costly test or transition period.
If the company decides that thin client computing is the way to go, the idea is that they can move on to buying OEM thin clients as systems end their useful lifecycle.
How WinTPC Works
WinTPC is a locked down version of Windows 7. As such, it requires the same hardware specification as Windows 7. It can be deployed and managed via System Center Configuration Manager (SCCM) just like the full versions of Windows.
One of the main issues with using traditional desktop hardware as thin clients is that users end up writing data to the local disk. Whether intentional or not, writing to disk defeats many of the benefits of using a thin client including the ability to work on any client, eliminating the need to back up local systems, and security. WinTPC uses OS level write filters to ensure that no local data is stored by users of the thin client. Additionally, all system level or program generated writes are shunted to a virtual disk that is destroyed at the end of each session ensuring that the system returns to its clean state each time. IT accesses disk writes via administrator tools or Windows Embedded Device Manager (WEDM).
WinTPC supports RemoteFX for enterprises running Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1 with Hyper-V. Over a standard wired network connection, RemoteFX delivers a user interface experience so similar to a standard desktop computer that many users have no idea that they are running a remote desktop.
WinTPC also supports BitLocker and AppLocker.
WinTPC was released to manufacturing in June and is expected for general availability in July 2011.