Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Wonders of Thin Clients

I decided to purchase a Sun Ray 1 off of eBay several days ago for $20, which arrived yesterday. After spending about an hour or so reading the documentation, installing, and configuring the Sun Ray Server Software (SRSS) on my Ultra 2 (laplace), I finally had my Sun Ray up and running. I simply plugged it in, authenticated, and logged into JDS. To be over Fast Ethernet, the drawing of the desktop was extremely fast, and the only time it seemed to sputter was when a window refreshed quickly, such as displaying a directory, prstat(1) refreshing, and video to some extent. I decided to play a small MPEG2 file that was low-res, and performance was excellent. Audio quality seemed to be fair, as I played some music that I had on laplace, which is my file server.

The Sun Ray 1 comes with 4 USB ports and two of those are used for the keyboard and mouse. This leaves the other 2 for USB peripherals such as a removable drive and printer. I plugged in my thumb drive, and it mounted somewhere in /tmp/SUNWut without a problem. It would've been nice for Nautilus in JDS to have detected it and presented an icon on the desktop for the drive, but that didn't happen. Next, I plugged in my HP LaserJet 1300, which created a device node in /tmp/SUNWut/units/IEEE802.MACID/dev/printers/. I used /usr/sadm/admin/bin/printmgr to configure the printer, and lpstat(1) had no problems seething the printer. I printed a few test pages and all worked well.

Afterwards, I decided to play around with the Sun Ray's session mobility capabilities, which allow you to move back and fourth between multiple Sun Rays and maintain the same desktop session (Sun calls this 'hot-desking'). This is meant to be done with using smartcards and the Sun Ray's smartcard reader, but I don't have any smartcards, yet. Using utpolicy(1) one can enable mobile session support without using smartcards, and just using plain, login-based authentication. I decided to play an audio file, pause the session by using Shift-Pause, and login in again. After doing so, my session re-appeared, and the audio resumed playing on the Sun Ray's internal speaker (the Sun Ray has audio output, as well, so you can hook up a real pair of speakers).

I'm planning on acquiring at least another Sun Ray, so I can test a multihead configuration (you can combine two or more Sun Rays and share a session across them for multi-head functionality), and some smartcards. I've found some IBM GEMPLUS cards on eBay that seem to be supported, but if anyone knows of a vendor that'll sell me 5 or 10 PayFlex cards (the same cards Sun sells in bulk for the Sun Ray), leave me a comment or email me.

Tangent to this post, I wish the university I attend (Lambuth University) would deploy at least a small amount of Sun Rays in some of the labs. From my understanding, each lab we have (there's about 5 labs total, I think) is upgraded every 3 years. This means all 10 or 20 systems that may be in the lab are upgraded to new systems, and the last purchase was around $600-$700/system. This is outrageous considering that a Sun Ray 1 goes for $20 on eBay, and its not hard to find an auction that's for a bulk load of them. We have a fairly large Windows deployment at the university that makes no use of Active Directory, so each system is its own entity to be administered. When software needs to be installed on a lab, it must be installed on each individual system, which implies there's significant administrative overhead involved in administering the university's network. Because Sun Rays simply use a single server or multiple servers running the Sun Ray Server Software, administration overhead is minimized -- if you want to install software, you install it on the 1 or 2 servers, and its immediately usable to everyone on the Sun Ray network.

Moreso, certain faculty members at the university are still using 10-year-old systems running Windows 95 or 98. This is completely unacceptable, considering Sun Rays could be deployed with a decent resolution, and utilize the performance of the Sun Ray server. Faculty members upgrading from these old computers to a Sun Ray would gain desk space, functionality, and performance, and still be able to accomplish their work, as 95% of the workload at Lambuth is word processing, browsing the Internet, and checking email.

Once I get my second Sun Ray, I think I'll ask the IT staff, and several faculty members to observe a demo of what we, the university, could have for minimal cost and maximum functionality.


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