Implementing a Data Capture System – Thin Or Thick Client?

Not Choosing Wisely When Deciding on a Thick or Thin Client Solution

Whenever I hear the phrase “Not choosing wisely” or some variation of that I am always reminded of the third Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail movie and the scene when the Knight that is guarding the Holy Grail in the cave says “He chose poorly”. This was after the German colonel died when drinking the water from the wrong cup. In the world of client/server architecture, it is important to ‘choose wisely’ when you are determining if it will be the client or the server that handles the bulk of the workload. By client, we mean the application that runs on a personal computer or workstation and relies on a server to perform operations. While they share similarities, there are many differences between thick and thin clients. By the way, we refer to thick and thin as the hardware (e.g., how a PC communicates with the server), but the terms are also used to describe applications. In a nut shell, a thick client application is run from a central location or server while a thin client application can be run remotely from various locations like branch offices or military depots. And while the marketplace provides both thick and thin client data capture applications in various shapes and sizes knowing how to choose which one is right for your business and budget is critical.

Thin Clients

A thin client is designed to be especially small so that the bulk of the data processing occurs on the server. Although the term thin client often refers to software, it is increasingly used for the computers, such as network computers and Net PCs, which are designed to serve as the clients for client/server architectures. A thin client is a network computer which operates without the need for a hard disk drive. They act as a simple terminal to the server and require constant communication with the server as well. With a data capture system the actual capture of the document initially lives on the computer of the thin client, but is saved to the server. The thin client (web page) application can then instruct the server what to do to the document or what indexes to save. In areas of slow network response, the thin client software can be scheduled to send the captured documents to the server at certain times of the day or night when network traffic is light.

A thin client data capture solution may be right for you if you have branch offices or distributed remote locations and you want to be able to capture and process data at those locations rather than shipping the paperwork to a central processing center. In this case you can lower your costs and enhance your security (no lost papers in the mail) by scanning and capturing remotely. Additionally, by accessing the capture application through a Web browser, there is no software to install and configure at each user’s computer, leading to easier scalability and a lower initial and ongoing technology investment. Both named user seat licenses and concurrent user licenses are available in the thin client marketplace but our advice is to find a concurrent user model, especially if you have several remote locations or branches.

Thick Clients

In contrast, a thick client (also called a fat client) is one that will perform the bulk of the processing in client/server applications. With data capture thick clients, there is no need for continuous server communications as mainly you are communicating archival storage information to the server. As in the case of a thin client, the term is often used to refer to software, but it is also used to describe the networked computer itself.

If your operations do not involve branches or distributed locations or you don’t have the need for a lot of seats and want named user licenses then you would probably want to consider using a thick client data capture solution. Additionally, if your applications require multimedia components or are bandwidth intensive, you’ll want to consider going with a thick client solution as well. One of the biggest advantages of thick clients rests in the nature of some operating systems and software being unable to run on thin clients effectively due to resource issues. Thick clients can handle these issues as they have their own resources.

At the end of the day, when choosing either a thin client or thick client data capture solution, you will need to consider if your business will capture and process documents remotely or centrally and where you want the bulk of your processing to take place. Like the knight in the Indiana Jones movie, we caution you to ‘choose wisely’.

Look for our next article on Fourth of Five Key Data Capture Implementation Mistakes: Choosing Size over Flexibility.