Thin clients re-emerged on the tech scene in the early 2010s, this time with the premise that cloud computing would finally help realize the potential of these simple, yet intelligent machines with little or no storage. The promise was that desktop virtualization would thrust these intelligent front-ends for servers or cloud computing infrastructure to myriad markets, including financial and government services, call centers, kiosks, and healthcare. However, thin-client manufacturers soon discovered a major hitch.
1. Desktop virtualization is creating new opportunities for thin clients.
The downside was that most thin clients didn’t feature GPU acceleration and that severely impacted video-streaming applications. The video streams, while heavily relying on the network and server capabilities, still fell short in terms of executing a sufficient number of framesper-second. In addition, the video traffic ended up using a staggering amount of the CPU bandwidth.
Then, in 2012, AMD introduced accelerated processing units (APUs) that combined a CPU and a GPU on the same piece of silicon to help increase the processor throughput, which then allowed thin clients to acquire video encode and decode capabilities for multimedia streaming. Eventually, the immersive graphics in single- and multi-display configurations transformed the thin clients’ markets.
In 2015, AMD claimed 53% market share in thin-client x86 processors, and design wins with major manufacturers such as Dell, HP, IGEL, and Samsung. Now AMD’s third-generation embedded G-Series system-on-chips (SoCs) add the I/O controller onto the same chip as the APU, and the resulting enhanced data rates are leading to smaller board space, thus complementing the smaller form factor of thin clients.
2. AMD’s Radeon GPU lies at the heart of G-Series SoCs for thin clients.
Additionally, APUs enable thin clients to execute graphics-intensive tasks like computer-aided design (CAD) and 3D modeling. AMD’s Embedded G-Series also offers configurable thermal design profiles (TDP) spanning from 5 to 25 W, and that makes these APUs highly suitable for low-power applications in the thin-client space.
Next, these SoCs enhance data security and control through encryption and decryption of central server data. Moreover, these chips only run the software on thin clients that has been approved by the enterprise IT department, with minimal management required.
Thin clients in healthcare
Desktop virtualization via thin clients is inherently more suitable for large systems with a sufficient number of users because its IT structure is typically more secure and cost effective than utilizing individual PCs. Hospitals and medical centers are a case in point.
The data, applications, and security requirements are generally very specific and dynamic in the Continuum of Care, and that makes thin clients a smart choice in a multi-user, virtualized environment. Furthermore, the combination of computing performance and graphics in single-chip embedded solutions works very well in the healthcare environment where a graphically rich experience is imperative in applications like examination of ultrasound images.
3. Thin clients are becoming a powerful tool in healthcare.
Next, data security is a key priority for healthcare service providers because vendors want to ensure that patient’s data remains confidential while doctors and nurses have regular access to it. Thin clients add that layer of security because they don’t host any data locally, keeping the patient data safely secured behind firewalls and secured servers. Moreover, thin clients protect medical professionals from the hassles of viruses, key loggers, and compromised user accounts.
The moral of this story is that the success achieved by the thin clients is nicely tied to the evolution of the APUs and the potential of lower TCO. It’s a marriage that makes technical and economic sense that’s clearly working, and it’s likely to continue.
Ralph Gonzalez serves as the Worldwide Thin Client Vertical Manager at Advanced Micro Devices. Ralph has been with AMD for over a year and has been supporting and managing the thin client solutions business, from customer concept phases to product launches, in order to drive continued sales of AMD Embedded solutions into the marketplace. Ralph majored in Business Administration with a focus in MIS from the University of Houston.