I work in database development and have built all my desktop comps for my house, so I know my way around computers. However, I am pretty green when it comes to server installation and administration.
That being said, what I was wanting to do for my home is to set up some kind of server/thin client configuration for myself and family. I would like to have just one (kick ass) server and then set up a thin client for each of us. In total, I would need to connect at least 4 clients since there is 4 in my family and I want one in each bedroom and our office. Plus if possible, have one near a TV (or two) so that I could stream media. I figured if I could set up the server like an HTPC, get Office 365, and get an OnLive subscription, that would allow us to get all the media, software, and games we would want with only having one actual computer. I know I could just get everyone a ChromeBook, which to me is just a thin client itself. I just wanted to make my own setup that is beefier and more versatile.
I guess first of all, is that even possible? I have worked with thin clients at work, but I do not fully understand their setup and what goes into it.
Is it feasible price wise? I have searched around the internet and haven't really gotten a straight answer on the price point. Some say the licenses are too expensive while someone else said you could just use RDC.
Lastly, can what I am trying to do be done in a different, cheaper, or more effective way?
Thanks in advance for any and all advice.
PS - I really would like to stay with Microsoft products if at all possible.
If you would like a very basic and cheap method of doing this, you can set up one powerful Windows 8 Pro computer, and run multiple virtual machines in Hyper-V with Windows 8. Individual computers (or thin clients) can be directed to an individual virtual machine for each person or end computer based on IP address, and it all runs off that primary computer. There's some benefit to this, as it's all just having to purchase Windows 8 licenses for the host and virtual machines, and doesn't require any actual "server" OS setup. However, Hyper-V in Windows 8 Pro is kind of limited that it doesn't support RemoteFX to help utilize the GPU to improve graphics performance. If you are doing any kind of video play back, gaming, or multimedia on your end computers this will make a BIG difference. Playback of streaming video online through an RDP session without RemoteFX can be quite choppy. You also will not get audio pass through from the virtual machine to the end client device.
If all you want is to be able to have four or five end points get back to basic virtual machines for programs like Microsoft Office, then this might be fine, but it's definitely not great at everything.
To get improved remote session performance you could look into going with a full Windows Server 2012 remote desktop session host or virtual desktop infrastructure solution. Here's the difference. Remote Desktop Session Host points all clients to one concurrent virtual machine or "session" and generally any changes that are made or done are not saved once the user logs out again. It's non-persistent. You can set up shared file storage for people to save to, but any programs installed, changes made, etc. are not saved. Virtual desktop infrastructure, however, is like I previously described where each user instead has their own virtual machine that they are directed to remotely. In this case changes can be made and data saved within the virtual machine just as if they had their own persistent computer storage like a regular desktop. With a full Windows Server solution you can set up RemoteFX, which will improve graphics performance on virtual machines. However, the licensing cost is much greater ($800 or so for one license of Server 2012 Standard, plus $150 per RDSH user or device, or $150 per Windows 7/8 license per virtual machine for VDI) The hardware system can also be much more complex to set up (compatible hardware and software, configuring the network, etc.)
Again, it is hard for us to really tell you what is worth it for cost because we just don't know what kind of usage you intend to have on your end computers or your server. If you want to do a full Windows Server 2012 solution with VDI, expect to pay $5,000 on the server alone, not including any additional cost for networking, thin clients, etc. If you're looking at only running five computers in your house that's $1,000 per computer that you could invest instead and have a very nice performance computer that way.