2013-10-19 15.59.01

Repurposing old dumb PCs as thin clients

If you work at a metal refinery, or anywhere that utilises H2S (Hydrogen Sulphide), you might be familiar with this sight.

These computers are old, and dead, owing to their HDDs being corroded by the rotten-egg smelling gas that floats around the refinery they’re located at.

Our goal at this site is to move everyone around the refinery onto Teradici zero clients, and utilize our VMware View instance. Desktops (including apps and data) will be safe and sound in the datacenter, and the users won’t be subjected to losing their desktops and waiting for a replacement.

We purchased 100 Teradici based Zero Clients, and we were left with a lot of old PCs without a working HDD. What were we to do with them? eBay? Donating them somewhere?

The kill-two-birds-with-one-stone solution was Stratodesk’s “NoTouch” suite, something that caught my eye at VMworld last month. NoTouch OS is a relatively small linux distro that provides clients for most of the major hosted-desktop systems (like VMware View, Citrix, Microsoft RDSH, etc) and gives you the ability to repurpose dated PCs as thin clients.

NoTouch OS is managed through their NoTouch Center software, which they supply as a standalone install, or a virtual appliance. Through it you can group your endpoints and apply settings at any level. You could have a group of endpoints that connect to your VDI system for your employees, and a group of endpoints that provide nothing but a web browser pointing to your timesheet system for contractors to use. It’s very flexible and packed with functionality.

The Stratodesk Virtual Appliance also gives you a PXE boot server, and this is what we’re using for our PC-sans-HDDs. Just import the NoTouch OS image through the virtual appliance’s web interface, configure some boot options, pop some options into your DHCP servers, and away you go.

We’ve got 25 of these endpoints running throughout the plant, and user feedback is good. We had a couple of issues with managing multimonitor modes and auto-assigning endpoints to groups, and their support was both quick and extremely helpful. I had a response within the first couple hours, and they had solved the issues within 6 hours. On a Saturday. At night. And before we even purchased a license!

The PCoIP client built into NoTouch desktop is the official Linux VMware Horizon View client, and NoTouch lets you configure it however you want. Note that with Horizon View 5.3 you’ll be able to do RTAV through the Linux client, allowing you to use your USB webcams through a NoTouch endpoint. This gives it an advantage over the Teradici Zero Clients, as they’re yet to support RTAV (though sources tell me they are working on it).

They offer a free trial that allows you to manage 2 endpoints, I highly recommend giving it a try before you go and purchase any more zero clients. Licensing works out to around $46 per endpoint (retail) including a year of maintenance, and you can purchase licenses either through a vendor or direct.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating PXE booting a PC with no HDD into the NoTouch OS.

I’m finding it hard to justify purchasing more Zero Clients. Feel free to comment below with arguments for/against PC repurposing software like this! I’d love to hear your opinion.

Nathan Manzi

I'm a geek, a husband, and a dad. I get excited when the word 'virtualization' is mentioned, and I spend most of my time working in that space. I also like to play computer games when I'm not playing with my kids, running, lifting heavy things, or studying.

  • Hello,
    Thanks for this blog, its the first to read about NoTouch product as I’ve been searching for the past 3 days or more to find some good configuration reference. I’ve been testing the product and I’m unable to make it works with Dell vWorkspace.. Logger a case with their support, the initial reply was fast but still no solution.. Hope to get my hands on it and make it work with vWorkspace..

    Any idea, hints, please share..

    Regards,