POS Thin Clients: Delivering Hybrid Flexibility in the Cloud Age

24 November 2021

Let’s cast our minds back in time to the dawn of electronic point of sale technology. Remember the days when an electronic POS terminal was basically a PC, a great hulking box with a hard drive, motherboard, CPU and RAM contained within it?

Sure, “ePOS” was revolutionary. The fact that you could integrate sales processing with back office functions like accounts and inventory made everything about running a customer-facing business that much slicker and more efficient. But it posed some issues, too. PC-based POS terminals did not come cheap. And then you had the issue of where to put those great big boxes, which multiplied the more POS end points you wanted.

The answer came with the arrival of thin clients. Rather than having a complete all-in-one computing unit, a thin client set up separates the interface from the processing and the data storage. It can be applied to any business IT system, but in retail or hospitality you would have, say, a set of touchscreens that staff can use to access the POS software and process sales front of house, and then servers and CPUs out the back where the operating systems, software and data backups are run.

This is much more flexible and cost effective than having to run a full computing unit at every POS terminal. Thanks to the wonders of virtualization, it means you can have one server stack, one set of CPUs etc, running duplicates of the OS and software for multiple smaller, cheaper (and, yes, ‘thinner’!) terminals. You can deploy more terminals for lower cost and at greater speed, because to configure them, all you have to do is plug them into the existing network. For big businesses especially, thin clients help make POS scalable.

Out to the cloud and back again

Of course, much has changed with the arrival of cloud POS. But in many ways, cloud computing is just an evolution of the virtualized client-server model described above. The difference is that, nowadays, you don’t need to build your own server-based computing environment on premise to run POS.

Thanks to the ready availability of cloud-based SaaS solutions, you don’t need to run any back-end compute through hardware based on your own premises, in fact. With the cloud, all processing, storage, app configuration and so on takes place in a distant data centre, which you connect to via IP.

In many ways, cloud computing has made thin client POS endpoints more relevant than ever. The point being, when you are accessing POS platforms via the cloud, you don’t need full-blown computers to use or run the software – just enough processing juice to handle data downloads and uploads via an internet connection, a physical interface (e.g. a screen with a GPU) and perhaps some limited short-term local on-device storage to enable slicker functionality.

But thin clients are also perfectly suited to support another growing trend we’re seeing across retail and hospitality – hybrid POS deployments. Hybrid involves a blend of cloud and on-premise infrastructure, so you’re accessing some elements of your solution remotely ‘as-a-Service’, but running others on-premise from your own servers.

Hybrid makes sense when you want an extra layer of failover protection so your POS can keep running even if your internet connection fails. A lot of businesses also feel more comfortable having absolute control of storage, security and risk management for their most sensitive data, especially in the age of strict privacy and data protection regulations. In short, hybrid environments hand businesses a greater degree of control over their IT infrastructure, without losing any of the flexibility, scalability and cost effectiveness that the cloud delivers.

Thin client POS endpoints are an ideal complement to the agility and choice hybrid cloud offers. Whether it’s cloud-based transaction processing software or an on-premise customer database, SaaS data analytics or a back-up system replica on your own servers, thin clients can connect to them all. What is more, they are cost-effective, easy to deploy and come in various formats, whether it’s fixed-position terminals, mobile tablets or self-service kiosks.