Inside LIMS Technology

LIMS Zero Footprint ClientDoes it seem like all LIMS platforms are the same? They all log samples, support data entry, and generate reports.

But despite how it might first appear, laboratory informatics management systems couldn’t be more different. Something as fundamental as the screen can vary dramatically from one LIMS system to another – with some being much easier to use than others.

Looking at client-server technology alone, the difference is clear. 

The Dinosaur: Thick Client LIMS
Broadly speaking, no one in the LIMS industry is using thick clients. A TurboTax installation is a good example of a thick client: it stores its data on your local hard drive, and your local computer provides all the necessary processing power. It can connect to the IRS to exchange data, but the basic paradigm remains the same: thick clients are restricted to local programs.

The Has-Been: Thin Client LIMS
Several decades ago, thin clients were all the rage. Currently in the LIMS industry, several well-known software packages rely on thin clients that are either installed on the local PC, or are managed through special “helper” applications provided by the operating system. An example of this is software that requires local installation or a helper framework like .NET on the local computer. In this configuration, most of the processing happens on the local computer, with data going into—and being served from— long-term storage on a centralized server.

Sounds good, right? Well, as it turns out – in regulated environments, the thin client has some major drawbacks. Among these, the local computer requires individual attention for the initial installation, on-going software updates, and validation. That translates into maintaining the installation, configuration and validation for a fleet of individual thin clients – which is cumbersome, to say the least.

The Present (for some): Thin Virtual Client LIMS
So here’s an idea: what if we take a thick or thin client, and just show you an interactive picture of it – allowing you to interact with it as if it were on your local computer. This is the thin virtual client.

Thin virtual clients offer several advantages: the local computer doesn’t need much computing power, data is still stored on the centralized server for long-term storage, and it reduces the validation and software support to only what’s needed for a rather simplistic viewer program.

But while it’s not apparent on the surface, the Thin Virtual Client comes with a sizeable drawback: it requires an additional bank of servers in order to serve all those interactive pictures. Not only are you maintaining the footprint of the viewer on the local PCs as well as the application & database servers as normal, now you must install, configure, service, and validate a bank of remote viewing servers.

While the Citrix platform should be familiar to most, it has fallen out of favor in many organizations due to this additional administrative burden. Historically, within the LIMS organization, several thin clients were routinely run through Citrix, and to this day, certain LIMS software packages are implemented this way to try to avoid the overhead of locally-installed thin clients.

The Cutting-Edge: Zero Footprint Client LIMS
Moving beyond the limitations of the Thin Virtual Client, there is the next evolution of LIMS platforms – what LabVantage calls the “zero footprint client.”

As the name implies, it:

  • is the thinnest possible client on a local computing device
  • needs no special installation or maintenance
  • has no additional software to run
  • has no framework or “helper” applications on the local OS
  • only requires a web browser and a web address.

From an architecture perspective, this means that only minimal business processing occurs on the local client. With no local storage at all, all data is served from—and stored on—the long-term database server. Another big advantage of the zero footprint client is that it does not require a bank of viewing software servers.

At LabVantage, we leveraged this capability using HTML 5 and AJAX to provide the LIMS user with a rich, intuitive user interface – just like you’d expect from a thin or thin virtual client. At the same time, there is no administrative or maintenance overhead. Ultimately, these benefits reduce LIMS costs.

What Should You Look For When Purchasing a LIMS System?
Look for software packages that avoid the thin or thick client installations and the extra viewing software or “helper” applications. Ask the question, “What do I need to install on the client computer?” The answer you’re looking for is, “Nothing but a web browser!”

Avoid vendors that tell you in some circumstances you’ll use a thin client, in some you’ll use a zero footprint client, and in others you’ll use special viewing software (sometimes all from the same vendor).

The first commercial LIMS was born in the 1980s, but they’ve come a long way since then. The most recent advances are dramatically changing what LIMS technology can do for you and your business.

Want to understand how the zero footprint client works? Contact LabVantage for an explanation or demonstration today.