Review: Dell Cloud Connect Does Thin Client Right

Cloud Connect

Since the mid-1990s, the CRN Test Center has watched thin-client solutions come and thin-client solutions go. All have failed due to excessive back-end cost or complexity, poor performance of networks or apps, a lack of vendor commitment, or some combination of the above. Among the longest at the terminal table has been Wyse, and the fruit of its 2012 acquisition by Dell (plus a little help from Google) is the best thin-client solution we've seen to date. Here's a look at Dell Wyse Cloud Connect, a project formerly known as Ophelia, which appears to finally have thin client figured out.

This Ain't Chromecast

Unveiled on Jan. 8, Cloud Connect centers around a small device that's about the size of Google's Chromecast. And while both run Android and plug directly into an HDMI port, the similarities end right there. Cloud Connect offers far more than just a means to watch YouTube videos on a TV (although it can do that). The Cloud Connect solution includes a powerful back-end platform through which users access a managed set of enterprise applications and corporate data via a secure Citrix client running locally on this pocket-sized Android device. It can (and should) be used with a physical keyboard and mouse, although, like a smartphone, it also accepts touch input and works with the Android soft keyboard.

Android Inside

The thin clients of yore were slaves to network and server bandwidth. But Dell's Android-based solution can store and execute apps locally (if IT allows it). This permits local apps to browse the web, check email, run presentations and even stream media. Windows apps can still execute remotely, and it's all done within the secure envelope of the Citrix client. "And if your Citrix environment isn't open to the Internet, a VPN client can create a secure tunnel into the inside," said Jeff McNaught, chief strategy officer for Dell's Cloud client-computing business. The device is running a hardened version of Android Jelly Bean with a boot routine that checks for an available keyboard, mouse and network connection, and can then offer to connect with the mothership. Instructions or prompts are provided for anything the user hasn't done before, such as adding apps to the home screen.


About the size of a Matchbox car, Cloud Connect has a dual-core A9 processor, 1 GB RAM, plus 8 GB of flash storage -- specs on par with the average smartphone. An additional 32 GB of storage can be added via microSD card slot with support for 64 GB coming in a future release. Dell's device puts out an amazing 1,920-x-1,080 resolution, with pixels aplenty to dazzle board rooms and prospects alike. Navigation performance is snappy, and dual-band Wi-Fi a/b/g/n keeps web pages and video streams from stalling. The device runs on a relatively low 2.5 watts, which it can get from an HDMI port that supports the (still relatively rare) MHL spec for powering display-connected tablets and smartphones. Otherwise, power can be supplied by any standard USB port to a microUSB port on the device using the included cable. For just about every connection scenario imaginable, it includes a variety of HDMI adapters.

Usage Scenarios

Dell's McNaught described several usage scenarios that the company believes will be common at the outset. "A salesperson can plug into a customer's projector or screen and have access to all their data. And since they're not stuck using their own laptop, they'll have a larger screen than they might otherwise," he said. For touch-enabled kiosks and digital signage, Cloud Connect eliminates the PC and many of the cables. "That reduces the cost of entry and much of the additional complexity. If a [Cloud Connect] device breaks, just replace it and it's automatically configured and up and running in minutes," McNaught said. In schools, "students can use it in the classroom and then take it home and continue to work right where they left off."

Laptop Replacement?

It's obviously useless on a plane. But for the traveling executive, Cloud Connect can be a super-lightweight computer workstation, provided there's a monitor, keyboard and mouse available at the destination. A single miniUSB 2.0 port can be used to connect a peripheral or USB hub; an included cable converts the mini-USB to a full-size female connector. We tested a variety of USB dongle-based wireless keyboard/mouse pairs on this port and all worked flawlessly. There's also Bluetooth 4.0, and Dell sent a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with the unit for testing. Both configured quickly and worked well. Once paired, Bluetooth devices reconnect seamlessly. If a physical keyboard is disconnected, the soft keyboard pops up automatically. If remotely controlling the office PC or Mac, there's an app for that too. Wyse PocketCloud comes preinstalled and works with an agent on a Mac OS X or Windows system.

Back End And Bottom Line

Pulling it all together for the enterprise is the Cloud Client Manager, a cloud-based system for managing users, groups and devices, and the applications they can access. The free version makes you choose between global and per-device security policies, and offers asset tracking, remote commands (such as device wipe), real-time reporting and analytics, and management for as many as 25 devices and three admins. For $3 per device per month, Dell adds the ability to manage Mobile Workspace and PocketCloud connections, stock and manage an app store, perform Active Directory imports, set policies by group, user, device or globally, and receive over-the-air firmware updates and phone support. Dell plans to integrate CCM with its other enterprise management systems, but did not say when. Shipping since Jan. 29, the Cloud Connect lists for $129 or $99 when bundled with certain Dell 20-, 23- and 27-inch touch displays.