What Are Industrial Thin Clients? Part 2/2—The Benefits
From the control room to hazardous areas, industrial thin clients can withstand any harsh conditions in process automation environments. At the same time, they provide access to unrestricted information and applications from host servers via a centralized system. As a rugged and reliable virtualization solution, thin clients are suitable for displaying even the most demanding process applications, and offer a number of benefits.
Reduced Total Operating Costs
Since the applications are executed on the host system, thin clients have lower hardware demands compared to normal workstation computers. Energy-efficient processors are completely sufficient to run the various remote protocols and encrypt and decrypt the compressed data sent between the thin client and the host. Since thin client components are significantly more cost-efficient than high-performance components for workstation computers, this directly affects the total costs. However, to achieve the same performance in the thin client infrastructure, a high-performance host server is required.
The thin client network and the use of the server mean that only very few CPU and memory resources are required on the hardware itself. As a result, the hardware is significantly more economical.
Hardware and Software Longevity
Another advantage of industrial thin clients is their potentially longer service life compared to computers. There are two reasons for this: First, application software updates do not affect thin clients because they communicate only via the host’s remote protocol. This allows thin clients to be used while the operating system or application is being updated. In addition, the embedded operating systems used on industrial thin clients are supported for longer than desktop operating systems.
Thin clients are very easy to set up. In contrast to installing applications on multiple workstation computers, thin clients can be configured quickly and easily. The set up process usually consists of two steps: Assigning an IP address to the thin client, and specifying which host server or VM the thin client will be connected to.
For large installations that require setting up multiple thin clients, centralized setup and management tools can help to install and service an entire group of thin clients with a single click. Due to the limited number of settings, this can be done by a single person.
Greater System Availability
In industrial environments in particular, systems must run reliably, not only from a cost perspective, but also to protect process equipment and personnel. Thin clients can increase process reliability due to several factors:
Because thin clients do store data or applications locally, faulty hardware can be replaced in just a few minutes. This does not affect the applications because they are running on the host.
Because modern thin clients require little computing power, industrial-grade components can be installed in a cost-effective manner. These enable the thin clients to be used in harsh industrial environments where they may be subjected to heat, shocks, vibrations, dust, cleaning processes, and explosive atmospheres.
Backup hosts can be used in the event of a host fault. Modern thin clients such as the remote monitors from Pepperl+Fuchs allow preconfigured connections to backup hosts, to which the thin client automatically connects after detecting a host fault. This function makes process automation systems highly reliable.
Thin clients use Ethernet communications to connect to any host system that can be found over a LAN, WAN, or even internet connection. This allows the implementation of demanding application scenarios, such as connecting and monitoring different machines in industrial plants and accessing data from different systems such as a decentralized control system (DCS) and a manufacturing execution system (MES) which may run on two different hosts and networks.
Centralized IT infrastructures provide greater security because data and applications are stored on the host in the data center with centralized backups and redundant servers.
Thin clients are also protected against tampering. For example, tools such as write filters and USB lockdowns prevent software from being installed locally. This significantly reduces the risk of viruses and malware entering the system.