Logo: TUG TORONTO USERS GROUP for Midrange Systems
e -server magazine

July 1996: Volume 11, Number 6

Fat Clients / Thin Clients: What is the difference?

By Bev Russell

ome more new buzzwords have surfaced lately - fat clients, thin clients, bloated clients, bloatware, network-centric computing, application-centric computing - but what the heck do they mean to me in my shop? What are they? Which one is right for my environment? I'll do my best to explain my understanding of the differences.

Fat Clients - also known as bloated clients are fully loaded PC's - desktops or laptops - containing a full suite of PC operating system, Windows, PC applications and network connectivity software. The software resident on these machines is known as "bloatware". These machines are costly and known to be complex to manage.

Thin Clients - new machines announced recently by IBM that will attach to almost any server and provide a graphical interface on a terminal that is optimized for network-centric computing. These new machines are slated to be introduced in September and will be launched in the US for about $700 US or half the price of a fixed function terminal and a fraction of the price of a fat client. These "thin clients" can readily access the internet, network based application and other host based systems. These devices are also called server synergistic terminals or application centric terminals. They are GUI front ends to a 5250 interface as well as all other applications on the LAN including AIX, OS/2, Lotus Notes, Windows NT and HTML. These devices are designed to take the complexity out of managing them. They will be managed like dumb terminals - there will be no local data storage - there are no disk drives to worry about, yet users will be able to select applications from various operating systems connected to the LAN simultaneously. No need to worry about configurations, application version control and hardware complexities. These machines will download what they need to run from the LAN. They will apparently be powered by a PowerPC chip and include a VGA chip set.

Which one is right for our environment? I think the answer is they both are. The fat client will continue to serve the heavy PC user or the mobile user and the thin client will provide PC capabilities to the casual user without the cost and support overhead that goes along with the environment. They will of course place increased traffic on the network. No need to worry about end users on thin clients messing with their configuration or installing pirated software or introducing a virus to the network! No more installing Client Access, Rumba and all the other pieces then fiddling with them to make them work in concert on that piece of hardware! No worries about hardware capabilities in the client and will it support this or that new feature! This will all happen automatically.

Just imagine, all the benefits of the new technologies extended to all users with none of the fuss! I can't wait!!! T < G