Diskless Workstation / Industrial Thin PC Appliances
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Diskless workstations and thin clients are client computers that are connected to a networked server. The computer contains the minimum amount of hardware required for the user to interact with the system. The server does the “hard work,” including booting, storing data, and performing calculations. Remote booting is the process of booting a client machine from the server. That is, the operating system is loaded from the server’s hard disk instead of the client. The benefit of this is that client machines don’t need a separate hard disk of their own. However, for remote boot to work on diskless workstations, client machines should have a network card with a compatible BOOT ROM. This is used to retrieve startup and configuration information, like the IP address, default gateway, etc, from the server when the client machine starts. The BOOT ROM you select depends on your remote boot process. RPL and PXE are two better known protocols used in BOOT ROMs. In this article, we’ve used a network card with a PXE boot ROM.
Alternatively referred to as a diskless node, dumb terminal, or dumb terminal, a diskless workstation is a networked computer that provides no local hard disk storage. These terminals have a monitor, motherboard, network card, keyboard, and mouse. This term can also be used to describe any computer that has a hard drive, but is booting and using applications from the network instead of from the local hard drive. This type of computer is often referred to as a hybrid computer or network computer.
Thin clients are not typical computers, but rather a terminal that relies on another computer (usually a server) to supply the operating system and software applications needed by the user. Multiple thin clients can be connected to one master system that run their own “instance” of an operating system and software. Unlike a diskless workstation, a thin client does very little processing and usually only runs a small client that handles the input and output and basic display.
Why are these computers used?
These computers are used in corporate and hazardous environments for many reasons, including:
They are more cost-efficient than a traditional computer.
They sip power. Energy costs are reduced.
They have no moving parts, such as fans or hard disk platters, which is an important factor in environments where dirt, dust, and heat are present.
Because there are no moving parts, they are less likely to fail, compared to a traditional desktop computer.
It’s easier to administer and maintain a single, centralized server than to support numerous, physically separate operating system installations.
The computers are easier to secure, because all updates and data occur on the centralized server.
Replacement is easier, because no software must be set up or restored for the user. Only the hardware is replaced.
Who uses diskless workstations and thin clients?
Diskless workstations and thin clients are often used by large organizations, such as governments, enterprises, and educational institutions. When deployed at the scale of hundreds or thousands, these machines are easier to support, because they share a single, centralized set of resources.
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