Cost effective remote home working equipment

Cost effective device options for connecting to remote systems (Citrix, WVD)

With COVID creating a surge in demand for laptops or thin client devices, AppDS have also been asked by a several of our clients for cheap and effective solutions to connect to Citrix or Azure Windows Virtual Desktop -based systems. After  some diligent research, and testing, we would like to table several options for reasonably priced devices/solutions. along with  their pros and cons.

Raspberry Pi

Probably one of the cheapest devices available, which will meet minimum requirements for connecting to remote systems. Simple steps as to how to make the Pi a 'Citrix ready' device can be found in our other published blog article. Even the Raspberry Pi 3 is powerful enough to use as for Citrix connections, but here we will focus on the later the latest Pi 4 model. This has a more powerful CPU, USB 3 ports, Gigabit Ethernet and two micro-HDMI ports supporting 2 x 4K displays. Prices start from £30, but additional peripherals eed to be added– power supply, unit being the main one,as well as a micro-SD memory card, cables, keyboard, mouse. It can still be kept around the £100 mark in total. A slightly more user-friendly option is the Raspberry Pi 400, which is integrated into a ketboard, making it a complete 'personal computer' unit.

The whole kit costs less than £95 and just needs a HDMI input display to connect to. Questions to consider with this solution inclde;

  • Will the company provide monitors for users?
  • Will the user need to source their own monitor or just use whatever screen they have at home? (e.g. a HD TV)
  • How will these Linux based devices be managed and supported?

The challenge around monitors, and any other peripherals, can be simple for some companies, but complex and cost challenging for others.

Endpoint management is a more complex part and decisions often depends on price, capabilities or existing tools already available in the company. Similar to the other leading platforms, Linux devices are supported by many commonly used endpoint management solutions, such as VMware Workspace ONE or Citrix Endpoint Management, etc.

If you have no existing Endpoint Management solution in place, some suggestions could be , or if ore daring, use Ansible software to create your own management solution The latter or similar in house solutions require software/tools and specific development skills and resources to implement, so this is not for everyone.

Remote support can be provided using VNC - .

Even though the Pi is a very good option for Citrix, unfortunately a Microsoft Windows Virtual Desktop Linux based client is not yet officially released by Microsoft. The web client is a bit slower, compared to the Citrix user experience, but a few Microsoft partner companies have in the meantime released WVD Linux solutions, but these would incur additional costs to implement cost - .

 Intel NUC

Intel NUCs are not the cheapest mini-PCs on the market, but considering tje level of support, driver availability and the assurance of the Intel brand name, is probably worth paying a bit more for. Especially when comparing to e.g. chinese products from ACEPC or Beelink. The good news is that there are some lower spec models available, which make NUCs affordable and a very good candidates for Work From Home solutions. Often, NUCs are being sold as 'barebone', with no harddisk or memory. This is not so much an issue today when you can buy both 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD for around £50. Adding ca. £150 for a Celeron based Intel CPU NUC device, we have good performing client for around the £200 mark. A mjor advantage isbeing that Windows 10 can be installed easily, and this is probably the most convenient O/S for most users. Prebuilt units can also be purchased from Amazon and similar vendors with Windows already installed.

Citrix and Windows Virtual Desktop work together like a charm. A 64-bit architecture adds flexibility, allowing the use of a wider range of operating system and applications, compared to the Raspberry Pi ARM architecture. Considering device management, many companies can utilise an existing SCCM or and/ore Microsoft Endpoint Manager (e.g. Intune) or similar solutions they may already have. As with the with the Raspberry Pi option, the addition cost of monitor(s), input devices, and other peripherals, and the management of these, needs to be considered.equired.

Chrome OS / Chromebook

Many companies are already using Chromebooks. The Chrome OS look and feel is similar to the Chrome browser and should be familiar to many a user, but there are limitations from an applications and feature -point of view. But here we are primarily concerned with the ability to connect to remote systems, and in this case, these devices are more than adequate. There are both Citrix and Windows Virtual Desktop Android available and they perform well. Chromebook prices start from ca. £200 and up, which is still cheaper than some thin client devices and most laptops.

Another Chrome OS related alternative was created by the company Neverware, which was recently acquired by Google. Their product is called CloudReady OS. CloudReady provides good speed, simplicity, and security without strict hardware requirements. The solution can be used, whether your end user hardware is new / frequently updated, or 10 years old. This means that companies can reuse their ageing hardware assets, e.g. laptops, or their users can even adapt their outdated personal computers at home. The main requirement is a 8GB USB stick, which needs to be imaged with the downloadable CloudReady USB maker software. The computer is then booted up with USB stick, and installation steps followed.

For an additional annual fee, the Chrome Enterprise Management license could be purchased. This would address the device management challenge, via the Chrome Management and Google Admin console. There are other Chrome OS management solutions on the market as well.

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