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First look at the HDX Ready Pi: Enterprise Ready?

At Citrix Synergy 2016 Citrix announced that ViewSonic and Micro Center have manufactured a HDX Ready Pi. This is a Raspberry Pi in a nice case including ThinLinx configured, so the Pi is ready to be used as a Thin Client without any software installation. With ThinLinx you can also the Thinlinx Managent Server to configure the Pi remotely. Citrix thinks the Pi is a nice alternative for a regular Thin Client for low costs (around $ 99). As a Citrix CTP we all got one HDX Ready Pi (thanks Chris Fleck). So after Synergy I was pretty enthusiastic about the Pi as a Thin Client and I would definitely to test the Pi and see if the device can already be used as a Thin Client within (Enterprise) companies.

Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi is nice small device, the powersupply is almost bigger than the device itself. The device has 4 USB ports, a 10/100 NIC, a mini-jack sound plug and a HDMI output. So currently the device is limited to one display. That is a pity while multiple monitors are getting more common. However Citrix already mentioned that they have ideas to solve this issue, how many monitors would be possible it at the moment unknown. Also noticeable is het ontbreken of a power button. If you want to turn the device off, you need to pull the power supply off the device. Probably this will be a missing feature for some people, but when the device is mounted behind the monitor (there is special mount available) it can be hard to find the button (but probably the power supply cord as well).

The ViewSonic device is already preconfigured and automatically starts Chronium (a Chromebased browser) which opens three browsertabs. One is opening the Citrix Cloud gateway, the others are sites about the Pi and Thinlinx. You can quickstart by entering the URL of your NetScaler Gateway or StoreFront and setting up a session. The device has a Citrix Receiver already installed on it. Besides for Citrix sessions the device is capable for setting up connection to all other kind of systems. Think of VCN, Telnet, Unix connections, but also a Microsoft RDP Session and VMware Horizon View.

Logically for end-users you would like to configure the device so it automatically set ups a connection to your own infrastructure. For this article I will be focusing on a Citrix session. For Citrix there are two connection possibilities. You can use the Web based set-up so you connect to the Receiver for Web or NetScaler Gateway. Personally I think this is the most logical method to set-up the device. To limit the possibilities for the end-user you can use a Kiosk mode and at cmd line argument you can enter the URL of the NS GW or StoreFront.

You can also use the full Receiver. In this configuration you are connecting to the Store directly. In my case I needed to enter the full path to the store, so keep this in mind (but it can be an environment thing). You can preconfigure a domain or something, the users’ needs to enter credentials including a domain name. I tried this option as well and it did what it should be doing, however I could not get the user logged of. Both using the logoff function within the Receiver as rebooting the device did not work. I don’t know if this a specific issue I have or that this is the default behavior of the device (hopefully not, I expect that multiple users can use the Pi using the Receiver directly).

ThinLinx Management Server

How do we configure those settings? There are two ways. You can set-up directly on the device using the key combination <CTRL>+<ALT>+C directly on the device (at the Access Protocol tab) or you can use ThinLinx Management Server (TMS). This is the management software of ThinLinx Thinclient software. It can be installed on a Windows machine. The software has automatic detection mechanism, but the clients need be in the same IP subnet (broadcast). If this is not the case you need to enter the IP adres or FQDN of the Management Server into the configuration of the Pi before you can manage the device with the software.

 

Out of the software you can set the same configuration as via the manual option. The software also the possibility to upgrade the software on the device. The software is not perfect, but I must admit that I have seen software for managing Thin Client that is much worse. What I’m missing is the opportunity to set-up a profile or similar that can be applies to all Pi that you are adding to the software. Now you can configure multiple at once, but you need to enter the settings each time (it does not remember what you have configured before). Also I did not find the option to see which settings are applies to the device currently. As said I have seen worse, but some vendors do a better job currently. If the two things I missing could be added the software can be used in larger companies. For now I would see it’s a bit to minimalistic at this moment. Also some advanced settings of the operating system itself would be nice.

I’m not a Linux specialist, so to go deeper into the operating system I needed Google to help me out. Many commands are based on sudo. To use sudo commands you need to have a password. I used the default suggested password, but they did not work. Probably ViewSonic (or Thinlinx) have set their own password to ensure that the device is not changed too much.

Pi in action

I used to the Pi to connect to XenDesktop 7.8 infrastructure. As the Pi cannot offload any multimedia all rendering is done at the server. I played some 1080p videos from YouTube.com and the overall quality was good. Using business applications were also working like a charm. Logically it takes a lot of CPU resources of the server, but the Pi keep track with displaying the ICA session screen refreshes. I did not get any audio, first I thought it was caused that the Web configuration options do not allow to configure redirect audio. But after a little search I found out the audio is available on HDMI and the mini-jack output. The default configuration is automatic, but I have been using a HDMI converter to connect to a monitor. So I guessed the audio is sent out via the HDMI output. The behavior can be changed via the prompt. The prompt can be opened using <CTRL>+<ALT>+T and then you need to enter the command amixer cset numid=3 1. I did not find a way to manage this centrally via TMS, so this can be a showstopper for some environments. The quality of the audio out of the mini jack is not bad in my opinion and usable for normal business operations.

In one environment I had troubles seeing removable storage devices but after connecting the Pi to my own infrastructure I was able to use removable devices. Probably the way the Citrix Linux Receiver works (I did not use that for a while after many years of fat clients or Windows based Thin Clients), a specific drive is added (S:). Under this drive the connected removable storage devices are shown. It can take up to a couple of seconds to see the device when just plug it in. In some way I can only read from the USB sticks, I could not write any to my connected USB devices.

Summarization

With the introduction at Citrix Synergy I became pretty enthusiastic about using the Pi as a Thin Client device. After playing with the device in two XenDesktop infrastructures I’m still enthusiastic about the possibilities. The device itself is more than good enough for normal business operations, although lacking multimedia redirection can be a no go for several companies. Sizing of your VDA resources (CPU) is slightly different than using Thin Clients that can offload multimedia.

There are some challenges with the current implementation. The single monitor is the most important challenge in my opinion. But Citrix already mentioned they are working on solutions for that (also for offloading multimedia).

I expected a bit more of the Thinlinx Management Server (TMS). It’s workable, but I would like to see some options added to make it really useful for (Enterprise) companies. Basically set a default set of setting to a device added to the software and the possibility to see the current settings of the device. Also getting the device into the software could be improved (manually add via the console based on a TCP connection?).

Looking forward to the development of the HDX Ready Pi. It can become a real competitor in the Thin Client market. As the device is logically limited on resources it won’t be a fit for all employees of the company and that can be the biggest challenge to introduce this at (Enterprise) companies. Want they have to Thin Client devices only or manage more components besides the Pi as a second Thin Client solution?