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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""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."

As I have understood it, all thin clients have a weak CPU and small RAM. I only know of SunRay that is ultra thin and just handles I/O. No other vendor does this, they all handle a small Operating System in the background. They are just essentially a weak diskless PC.

What you are calling "ultra-thin-client" is just a dumb-terminal.

" "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."

Wow! That sounds good! But I wonder, have you experienced this performance by yourself or have you only read marketing about this?

I've been managing thin-client and diskless setups for over 7 years now, I'm not some marketing droid. Do a google search for "Linux in School District 73 Kamloops" for the details.

There's just no comparison between thin-client and diskless setups ... unless all you are doing is basic web browsing and office documents. If you want to do anything beyond that, or anything with audio, video, or even just animation, you can't do it with a pure thin-client setup. There's just not enough network bandwidth to do it well.

You see, one client runs Windows XP + MS Office + Powerpoint + etc at my company. This uses at minimum 1GB RAM and a CPU at 2GHz on a single computer, right?

There's the difference. We don't use Windows for our clients. It's all Debian Linux, with the occasional Win98/WinXP in VMWare Player.

I have problems seeing how you could run 30 of these work loads simultaneously on one server with 4GB RAM and one dual core CPU. Even if you skip Windows I fail to see how one server can run 30 clients on 4GB RAM and a dual core CPU. Because, that is what is needed for one user. And you can not stuff in 30 clients into that.

You've obviously never done anything with Linux, then. You can easily handle 30 thin-clients on a server with dual-P3 1 GHz CPUs, 4 GB SDRAM, and 1 400 GB IDE drive. We do it all the time in our elementary schools. And we have just under 50 of those, each with a lab of 30 computers that get used almost non-stop everyday.

However, that's only for basic web browsing, the odd flash/java game, some educational typing games, and We quickly hit the "network is the bottleneck" issue when schools wanted to do more than just surf the web and type letters.

We're in the middle of a migration to a diskless setup (12 elementary schools left), using $150 "computing appliances" and now they can do pretty much anything a normal computer can do ... but without the hassle of local harddrives, local optical drives, local floppy drives, local OSes, local software, and so on.

We've also migrated 6 high schools to Linux diskless setups, for everything (labs, library, office, admin), with plans to move the other 4 over this summer.

Actually, I have looked somewhat into thin clients, and I strongly suspect you have no idea what you are talking about.

Considering I've been working with them for over 7 years, and have found them to be pretty useless, I'd have to disagree. ;)

" "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."

Maybe you didnt read my first post? Where I gave arguments to why I think ultra thin clients are superior to thin clients (because they are just like a diskless PC). You are describing a diskless PC.

Exactly! A diskless PC setup is far superior to a thin-client setup.

The reason I dont like diskless PCs are because they are just like a PC, but without a hard disk. How many sys admins are required for PCs? One sysadmin for each 30 Windows PC? They need maintenance all the time. You need to patch them all the time. Viruses. etc.

Nope. Because they don't have harddrives, they don't have local OSes to worry about. No software patching, no viruses to clean up, no onsite technician required. If there's a problem, you swap out the PC with a spare, edit the DHCP config to allow it to boot, and you're done. Less than 5 minutes to fix a problem. And the only problems to worry about now are hardware related. And with only 2 fans having moving parts, hardware issues aren't that common.

For 19.000 SunRay, you only need 38 sysadmins worldwide.

For 15,000 students, 1600 staff, and around 6,000 diskless PCs, we have 6 school techs, 3 Unix techs, 1 hardware tech, 1 electrician, 1 video conferencing tech, and a couple managers. ;) We've actually reduced the number of school techs since moving off thin-client and onto diskless setups.

This is only possible if you can decrease the work labour very very much. This is not possible with a diskless PC or thin clients.

This most definitely *is* possible with diskless PCs.

Also there are huge energy savings with 4 watt SunRay. One bank saved 94% of their energy bill.

That one I'll give you. Thin-clients do use a lot less energy than full-fledged diskless PCs. However, you don't have to use power-hungry components in diskless PCs. I don't have the numbers for our systems, but they are very low. We use Sempron CPUs, onboard everything, and 250 W power-supplies. They're also configured to shut-off automatically at night, and power-on just before people show up. Compared to the P2/P3/P4 systems they're replacing, they're very green.

The only thing you can not do with ultra thin clients SunRay is playing full screen video (unless you install some software). For work and programming, they are perfect. SunRay has as much performance as the server, they dont run software themselves. If you need more performance, upgrade the server. And SunRay never break, the MTBF is 22 years. If they break, you just plug in a new one. That takes 1 minute and you are back where you were.

Like I said, there are situations where thin-clients make sense. But once you want to go beyond dumb-terminal applications, simple web browsing, and office documents, they just don't cut it. Diskless setups give you all the manageability of a thin-client setup (no local OS, upgrade the server and all the clients get upgraded, just swap hardware when there's an issue, etc) but with all the power of a local PC.

Edited 2009-03-04 17:25 UTC

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