Linked by Nik Tripp on Mon 2nd Mar 2009 21:40 UTC
SuSE, openSUSE IT solutions companies have been generating lots of buzz regarding thin clients basically since the early 1990s, but have yet to really penetrate into many suitable environments. These relatively cheap computer appliances carry broad promises like energy efficiency, space efficiency, and centralized maintenance and data storage. These claims could sound like the computer industry equivalent of snake oil. Kiwi-LTSP, a combination of KIWI imaging technology and Linux Terminal Server Project, is one open source solution for thin client servers.
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I dont like thin clients. Yesterday I spoke with someone about his HP thin client. It takes 7 minutes to boot his HP thin client. I my opinion, thin clients suck big time. They have like 1GHz CPU and 256 MB RAM, and you have to upgrade the hardware to get more performance. And you have to patch their OS. It is just like a diskless PC, but very weak. They suck.

I don't know what this is, but it's not a "thin-client". A thin-client has very little local processing power, and no local OS. It's basically just a terminal. Everything is run on the server, and just the keyboard/mouse input and display output is handled by the unit.

This "HP thin-client" sounds more like an "rdesktop appliance" that runs Windows CE or something, and then loads an rdesktop client. Which isn't what a thin-client is at all.

Ultra thin clients, I really like. You plug it into the router/hub and in 5 secs, you get a login screen. No CPU, no RAM that runs applications - impossible to upgrade the hardware. No operating system to patch. Everything is processed on the server. Input is sent to the server, the server sends back bitmaps to the client. Impossible to hack. They weigh 0.38kg and uses 4Watt, size of a VHS casette. Very cheap. MTBF is 22 years, no moving parts. You upgrade the server and you have upgraded the performance of all clients at once. Physically impossible to upgrade the clients.

This is a normal thin-client.

One quad core PC can drive 40 clients.

For Linux setups, 1 dual-core PC with 4 GB of RAM can handle 30 clients, so you should be able to handle a lot more than 40 on a quad-core. Although you're mainly limited by network bandwidth than server CPU power.

Drawback; movies. Windows Media player handles MP4, etc in full screen. But not divx and xvid formats. Max resolution is 500x500 windows lagg free at 25fps. If you only show static pictures then everything is fine. The bandwidth required for full use is 300kbit/sec.

This is where diskless PCs shine over thin-client setups. You get all the power of a local PC, but none of the hassles (no harddrive, no optical drive, no floppy drive, no local OS installs to manage, just a CPU, RAM, motherboard, PSU, and case). Systems boot via the network, mount all the drives via the network, but run everything locally. You can even run VMWare/VirtualBox/KVM/etc locally to have access to Windows. Full audio support, full video support, full 3-D accelleration. If hardware dies, you just swap in a replacement, update the dhcp config, and boot. PCs become appliances ... and everything is managed centrally via the server.

These ultra thin clients are provided by SUN and they are called SunRay2. No other vendor has ultra thin clients, all have thin clients. You can buy old SunRay for 40 USD on Ebay. The server software is downloadable for free, and Linux versions exist. And Solaris versions.

We looked at these, and units from IBM, NeoWare, HP, and others. They just aren't worth it. For roughly the same price (new, < $150 CDN), you can get a slimtop case, PSU, motherboard that supports 2-4 GB of RAM, a 2 GHz AMD Sempron CPU, onboard nVidia graphics, gigabit NIC, 7-channel sound. Virtually silent (2 small fans). But few limitations on what you can do with it. Want full-screen video? No problem. Want 3-D games? No problem. Want surround sound? No problem. And it won't saturate a 100 Mbps network to run an entire school (~100 PCs in the elems). The only time the network is hit is when loading programs ... once they are loaded, they run on the local CPU using local RAM.

I have a quad core and ZFS raid and Solaris.

Overkill. We use dual-core setups for our diskless setups, and the servers can handle ~100 clients in the elems. In the secondaries, we use quad-cores, but they handle over 500 clients.

And watch movies in 500x500 windows.

You consider that useable? That's tiny. Especially on any monitor over 15". Watching movies at full-screen, with surround sound, without clogging the network, is where it's at. And that's something that thin-clients can't do on anything short of a "1 client + 1 server + 10 Gbps network" setup.

Except for some limited uses in office environments, thin-clients and dumb terminals are pretty much dead.

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