Wyse hopes to shake up the thin client industry with a new zero client platform. Will it work?

Last week Wyse made a pair of announcements around their evolving "zero client" portfolio. First, they announced a new platform called Wyse Zero that will be the foundation for multiple types of zero clients.

Last week Wyse made a pair of announcements around their evolving “zero client” portfolio. First, they announced a new platform called Wyse Zero that will be the foundation for multiple types of zero clients. (In Wyse-speak, the Wyse Zero platform would work with a number of different protocol “engines.”) Second, Wyse announced that the first client device built on the Wyse Zero platform will be an HDX engine called “Xenith” that will be a zero client for Citrix XenDesktop.

This is an interesting announcement from Wyse and probably a glimpse of what client devices will look like in the future, so it’s worth exploring what zero clients are and how Wyse is approaching this space.

What is a zero client?

A zero client is like a thin client, but with less to manage and maintain on the client device itself. (So it’s thinner than thin—a “zero,” if you will.) The zero concept is a result of the “thin client bloat” over the past 15 years that led to thin clients slowly and steadily becoming more complex until today they’re essentially the same thing as a small form factor PC with a thin client OS. This is a problem because thin clients are supposed to be stateless, yet IT pros spend a lot of time managing, configuring, patching, and updating these things. (So yeah, they’re “stateless” in that they don’t usually have any real data on them, but they make up for it in configuration!)

Eventually people said, “Enough with this thin client management. Let’s go back to the basics and stop wasting time managing thin clients!” (I like to point out that I’ve been saying this since 2005, but who’s counting. ;)

The exact definition of a zero client—like all trendy things in the world of IT—varies depending on who you ask. Some claim that a zero client can’t have any software on it at all, while others claim it can have software as long as it’s stateless (i.e. no device management or patching), while still others don’t mind stateful firmware as long as the device doesn’t have any public interfaces. (And of course, each vendor defines “zero client” in a way that just so happens to describes their own products. :)

There are a lot of folks claiming to have zero clients on the market today, including:

  • Sun / Oracle, because the Sun Ray thin client just does a simple network boot and dynamically streams its OS from a Sun Ray server
  • Teradici, via their PC-over-IP (PoIP) hardware client partners, like Wyse, 10Zig, Devon IT, Dell, etc.
  • Pano Logic, whose Pano cubes have no firmware, no CPU, and no memory
  • And now Wyse, whose Wyse Zero clients download all of their configuration information and OS from a server at boot time

When a Wyse Zero client (like the new Wyse Xenith product) powers-on, it does a DHCP boot and reads an extended option flag from the DHCP server to learn where on the network its configuration is stored. The client then downloads a config file which tells it how it should operate and where its OS (err, “engine”) binaries are stored. In the case of Xenith, that’s a <4mb HDX engine which is either downloaded on the spot or booted from cache. The user is then presented with a login box and off they go. This entire process (from cold boot to login) can happen in a matter of seconds.

So to be clear, a Wyse Zero client such as the Wyse Xenith actually downloads its configuration information and core engine from the network. Is that zero? By Wyse’s definition, yes. They call it zero because no configuration needs to persist on the client (it merely caches the engine for boot speed convenience). In some ways this is like the difference between the old Full Program Neighborhood Citrix client and the Program Neighborhood Agent—the agent was a sort of “zero” client because it pulled all of its configuration from an XML file on a web server. (Although I guess in that case the user still had to manage all of the binaries.)

Do I think this is a zero client? I guess first I should point out that it doesn’t *really* matter how the executing code gets on to the client device. If a device exists with no local configuration then I’m going to call it a zero client, period. (Ironically by that logic, a Pano cube and a Sun Ray are both zero clients, but a Teradici PoIP hardware client is not since it has old-school firmware which must be updated from time-to-time.) And again, this is really a game of semantics, because you could argue that even Pano has “code” that runs on its client device since you could (in theory) reprogram the FPGA the device is based on to change how it works.

The bigger point is that it doesn’t matter how “zero” any of these things are. What matters is that the various zero clients are easier to manage than more traditional thin clients.

Why did Wyse create the Wyse Zero platform?

The Wyse Zero platform represents the future of Wyse’s thin clients. They made it clear (via strong hints and winks) that they could create different engines for Wyse zero based on PC-over-IP, RemoteFX, WinCE, or even ThinOS in the future. The more traditional-style thin clients will be relegated to the uses where users need local processing (local web browsers, etc.) or more than one protocol and will probably become indistinguishable from “real” computers running a thin client OS. (Hey, Wyse just happened to announce the “Wyse PC Extender” last week too! Coincidence? Here’s a glimpse of the future for you: It’s 2015. Is there a difference between a Wyse thin client running ThinOS and a small form factor full PC running Wyse PC Extender? Twenty bucks says you'll just have that and Wyse Zero.) Future zero engines could be delivered from the cloud, internal servers, etc.

So it’s in Wyse’s interest to have the Zero platform and this will be a big part of the future of the company. But for today, the real winner with Wyse Zero is Citrix and the fact that the first implementation of Wyse Zero is an HDX engine for XenDesktop. The VMware sales channel was doing a great job selling the “simplicity” of the View PC-over-IP hardware zero clients against Citrix HDX which required a full and complex stack. And then with Microsoft announcing RemoteFX and the various zero client options around it, Citrix suddenly found themselves as the only major desktop virtualization platform without a zero client story.

So while I’m sure Wyse didn’t run out and create Wyse Zero just for Citrix, I’m also sure it was a no-brainer that XenDesktop HDX would be the first implementation of it.

Digging into Wyse Xenith and the Wyse Zero platform

Remember that Wyse Xenith the product name for the zero client for XenDesktop and HDX—it’s the first product built on the new Wyse Zero platform. The Xenith device is actually the same hardware as a regular Wyse C class thin client device. The only exception is that the firmware of the Xenith is built to look for an HDX engine configuration file instead of running ThinOS or Windows CE locally.

What’s interesting though is that Wyse C class devices and Wyse Xenith devices are NOT interchangeable or inter-compatible. If you bought a ThinOS or WinCE C class, it will always be a C class and never a Xenith. “Ok,” I thought, “that’s because the Wyse Zero engine and a local OS are two different things.” But what about future Wyse Zero engines? Do they envision being able to convert a Wyse Xenith into whatever the Wyse Zero engine version of RemoteFX is? The answer is no. Even though these things share the same hardware platform, Wyse’s view right now is that a customer is going to buy a zero client for a specific technology.

What about these new software-based zero clients built on the Wyse Zero platform versus the more traditional hardware-based zero clients? For example, if Wyse creates a PoIP-based Zero (capital “Z”) soft client, why would someone buy that instead of the current P20 chip-based PoIP zero client? That’s an interesting scenario. On one hand, the current Wyse Xenith (for HDX) zero clients start at $330, while the cheapest P20 (for PC-over-IP) is about $450. So it would be interesting to compare the performance of a software PoIP zero client to a hardware PoIP zero client. Then again, we don’t know how much of that $450 for the hardware client is licensing fees going to VMware and/or Teradici. It’s possible that licensing the software PoIP client for a software PoIP Wyse Zero engine would be cheaper.

The ultimate irony, though, is that the Wyse Zero PoIP software client would actually more "zero" than the hardware PoIP client, since the zero software client truly has no local configuration or management at all, while the PoIP hardware clients require firmware updates that must be pushed out to each device.

There's also an interesting conversation to be had around Microsoft's RemoteFX-based client devices. It's very possible that Wyse could release a Wyse Zero-based RemoteFX client that did the RemoteFX decoding in a software engine. In this case it's likely that the Wyse Zero software version would be more expensive than a RemoteFX thin client since it's Microsoft's stated goal for the hardware-based RemoteFX thin clients to be super cheap, perhaps less than $100. (And I think this is what we'll see in future Wyse E class devices.) Of course on the other hand, the Wyse C class devices on which Wyse Zero is based probably have more power than the $100 RemoteFX clients, so you might see a Wyse Zero RemoteFX option that could support dual 1920x1200 displays, etc.

The point is that the specific protocol technology might dictate how the pricing works out for a Wyse Zero software-based versus a "real" hardware-based zero client. (And of course Wyse can play both sides and make both types of products, especially since it looks like all Zero software clients will share the same C class hardware platform.)

Regardless of how this all shakes out, I think we can all agree that these are some (unexpectedly) interesting times in the thin client device space. Tomorrow I'll follow up with a deeper technical analysis of the Wyse Zero platform and the Wyse Xenith product. Until then, what do you think? Is this a good move for Wyse? Is this the future of thin clients? How will the competition respond?

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Great review brian,


Few things around...


1 - Wyse was trying to be Vendor agnostics with their WTOS  carrying all protocols/ clients on it, which makes the first time thin client administrators a nightmare to implement Xendesktop.


2 - With complex protocols being released by OEM's like HDX, PCOIP,remotefx etc the single image scenerario would no longer be viable to keep the image to bare minimum size of 6mb of WTOS, this move from Wyse makes it a seamless solution for XenDesktop implementors.


3 - Previous releas of Citrix Specific thin client "Viance" had it's own defects including the bukly size of a mini PC...


4 - Zero clients are a viable solution for LAN Environments ..but what happens for WAN users...


or offices with 2-3 desktops ..i woudn't see any option except for embedded based C Class.


You would nee HDX or Wyse VDA to run there...


5 - Sad Wyse conveniently ignored the "C" Class users by not providing a "upgrade or degrade" option to Xenith system even though it's the same hardware. C'mon it's not even a year old and 30% Expensive.


We are really eager to know from you how this works ?


Does it support mulitmoniter with multidesktop at the same time ?


how does random USB gadgets work on it and not just webcam's and pendrives?


How do you control them ?


Does it support HDX 3D Pro ?


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@Brian. Regarding the Wyse PC Extender, didn't Wyse have a similar product 5 or 6 years ago that converted a Windows 98 to a copy of the then current Windows CE "thin client".


Also there have been some other "convert to thin client" products, both commercial and free. ThinStation as en Linux based example of the latter one. Come to think of it, wasn't ThinStation also a "Zero Client"? Same goes for PXES (later aquired by 2X)


What's the story with all these? Have anybody used these in any scale?


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Like I said, I'll do a technical deep dive on Wyse Xenith tomorrow, but to answer some of @Kamalesh's questions:


If you can't use DHCP option flags for Xenith, you can hard-code the XenDesktop connection server URL. (And then it will still download its config and the HDX engine.


Also, Xenith supports most of the HDX features, including WANscaler client, true multi-mon, Plug-n-play for USB and webcams and stuff, Mediastream for local multimedia playback of many types.


All control is via config files that live on your XenDesktop connection servers.


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Can you use a Wyse Xenith to connect to a XenApp Published Desktop?


When you've said that the config files live on 'xendesktop connection servers' were you meaning only XD DDCs or can we use any web server (Web interface for instance)


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Brian,


I suggest you take a look at HP MultiSeat t100. It is a true zero client and cost is $89.


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Surely you jest! The HP MultiSeat t100 is specifically built for MultiPoint server, which is a neat classroom solution but not useful in the enterprise. (I mean come on... The t100 connects to a MultiPoint server via USB!!) So it's cool, but not in any way comparable to Wyse Zero.


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You got it Brian, and for those that want a MultiPoint Server solution, the Wyse E01 is a zero client like the HP, but the Wyse E01 includes 3 additional USB 2.0 ports for student-added USB peripherals like webcams and smartboards that the HP lacks.  Wyse E01 is also under $100.


Wyse E01 is strictly an education / MultiPoint Server solution, and does not have the Citrix HDX capability or enterprise-level technical sophistication of Wyse Xenith.


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Simon:  If you're using a recent XenApp version and published desktops, rather than apps, then Wyse Xenith will work, and uses the same WI interface and management as with XenDesktop.  


Checkout www.citrix.com/.../wyse-xenith-zero-client


and you'll see Citrix lists Wyse Xenith as officially compatible with XenApp 6.


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What am I missing - Wyse zero client costs $330 per device.  My company pays almost the same price for a desktop.  One could argue that zero client has no management but I think that's offset by the complexity of managing VDI. I tried to argue the 7 year refresh but we just push out to 5 on our PC's so the Capex save was just not there.


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@Watson, I think the "VDI versus traditional desktop" conversation is separate from the "zero client versus thin client" conversation. So in your case, I'd figure out whether VDI works for you, and then if so, figure out what type of client device you want to use. I definitely don't think you would do VDI just because a zero client exists.


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Brian,


I agree and disagree.  In my case I'm trying to push VDI in my organization.  I run into push back on capex when I present the numbers.  What I'm trying to do is figure out the total cost of ownership and prove that it's less than a desktop.  I know this is a tall order but if I'm going to get VDI in it has to be less.


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@Watson, perhaps you could point out some OPEX (operating expenses) instead of just CAPEX (capital expense).


Typically, for every $1 spent for capital expense a company will spend an additional $3 on operating costs.


So if a physical desktop costs $500 it will cost another $1500 to support it over its lifetime. Deploying, patching, maintaining applications, rebuilding, etc, etc, etc all needs to be factored into the cost/benefit equation.


That being said I agree with Brian, this is not the post for a VDI vs Physical conversation :)


Dave


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Well I'm looking forward to the next time Brian does a TCO/ROI analysis.  @Dave the numbers you quote may work for your company but they don't work for mine.  We outsource hardware replacement to a third party.  Also we went through our helpdesk tickets for the last 6 months and came up with negligible helpdesk ticket savings.


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If you are using hardware PCoIP devices, such as Teradici or Zero Clients, connecting to PCoIP hardware hosts, you should consider managing them with a connection broker such as PowerTerm WebConnect DeskView.  DeskView will allow you to efficiently manage all your PCoIP users, streamlining deployments and administration.


Read more about DeskView and download a free evaluation at:


www.ericom.com/pcoip.asp


In addition, if you are also responsible for Terminal Server or VDI users, you can manage all of them, along with your PCoIP users, with one product, one administration tool with PowerTerm WebConnect RemoteView.


Read more about RemoteView and download a free evaluation at:


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Adam


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Brian,


Come on already.  You've been told numerous times that Sun Rays do NOT have an embedded OS, nor do they download one!  A link to the exact process by which Sun Rays boot up has been posted right YOUR website here:


www.brianmadden.com/.../sun-ray-boot-process-defined.aspx


What gives? I know you don't like Sun/Oracle and you do have some valid points regarding why you wouldn't use them, but it really gets tiring when you just stab at them with false information. It really shows how poor your journalism is and who your bias is towards.


Please state facts Mr Madden.


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Brian,


Come on already.  You've been told numerous times that Sun Rays do NOT have an embedded OS, NOR do they download one!  A link to the exact process by which Sun Rays boot up has been posted right on YOUR website here:


www.brianmadden.com/blogs/think_thin/archive/2010/07/14/sun-ray-boot-process-defined.aspx


What gives? I know you don't like Sun/Oracle and you do have some valid points regarding why you wouldn't use them, but it really gets tiring when you just stab at them with false information. It really shows how poor your journalism is and who your bias is towards.


Please state facts Mr Madden.


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@kirk, I'm not exactly sure what you're complaining about here? I put Sun in the category saying they DO have a true zero client. Is it just because I used the word "download?" (which could be interchangeable for "streamed" in my book.) The point of this article was about the Wyse Xenith product specifically, but I don't think I was negative on Sun at all.


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That is correct, you stated "the Sun Ray thin client just does a simple network boot and dynamically downloads its OS from a Sun Ray server"


Perhaps rewording this in your doc would help.


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done


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Thanks Brian


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Brian wrote: "The ultimate irony, though, is that the Wyse Zero PoIP software client would actually more "zero" than the hardware PoIP client, since the zero software client truly has no local configuration or management at all, while the PoIP hardware clients require firmware updates that must be pushed out to each device."


My questions are: How would this Wyse Zero PoIP software client work? Where would the PoIP client software be installed? On the 4mb HDX engine?


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The Wyse Zero PCoIP client is a theoretical thing. But if it existed then that client would be a PCoIP client and not an HDX client. But I think it would work the same way. Client fires up, checks for the latest image, and downloads it if it's newer. And that case it would be doing so from a View server.


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