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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phoenix
Member since:
2005-07-11

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.

Reply Parent Score: 2

Kebabbert Member since:
2007-07-27

PHOENIX

"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.

If you know of other ultra thin clients I would be glad if you posted some links. We are about to deploy ultra thin clients where I work (Fortune 500 company). I am the project leader and I have only found SunRay as ultra thin, all others are thin. But if you claim there are others, then please show some links.







"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?

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? 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.

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







"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.

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. For 19.000 SunRay, you only need 38 sysadmins worldwide. 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. Also there are huge energy savings with 4 watt SunRay. One bank saved 94% of their energy bill.

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.

Edited 2009-03-04 10:09 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

Kebabbert Member since:
2007-07-27

If you really prefer diskless PCs, I would just use this superior setup instead. This is easily the best solution on the market right now, for diskless PCs. Highest performance. Cheapest. By far the safest solution.






HARDWARE:
- OpenSolaris server (which includes ZFS, iSCSI and CIFS).
- PCs without hard drive



SETUP:
Setup a ZFS raid which is the safest file system ever, because it handles SILENT file corruption:
http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1317400
ZFS needs no hardware raid cards (which sucks because they have their problems) and just needs a few cheap SATA drives. With 7 SATA drives you reach 440MB/sec. And you can add one SSD drive as a ZFS cache, giving you crazy IOPS. One SUN 7000 storageserver gives close to 250.000 IOPS in extreme cases, because of the SSD drive.

CIFS and Vista gives 90MB/sec on 1Gbps NIC. Thus, you get good performance with CIFS.

Create a ZFS filesystem and format it with NTFS and install windows XP on it + MS Office. Snapshot the filesystem. Now, make one clone of the Windows filesystem for each user, this takes one second. The Master filesystem is untouched.

Each PC connects to the server and boots his snapshotted cloned Windows XP over the network via iSCSI. No hard drive needed.

If a user messes his Windows partition up, just clone a new copy from the Master filesystem. And off you go in one second. ZFS snapshot each users partition and you have a backup.

Buy another OpenSolaris server, and you have a redudant fail safe system.




This is extremely cheap. All software is for free. You only need a server. And some diskless PCs. More info:
http://blogs.sun.com/constantin/entry/x4500_solaris_zfs_iscsi_perfe...

Edited 2009-03-04 10:28 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2

broken_symlink Member since:
2005-07-06


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

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? 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.

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


He certainly does know what he is talking, but I think you are still talking about thin-clients, while he is talking about diskless systems. Because your not running all the client apps on the server in a diskless setup, the server doesn't need a ton of ram and everything else. So what he said is true. In a thin-client setup which is what you are talking about this probably is not true, and you need a much beefier server as the number of clients increase and depending on what the clients do.


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.

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. For 19.000 SunRay, you only need 38 sysadmins worldwide. 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. Also there are huge energy savings with 4 watt SunRay. One bank saved 94% of their energy bill.

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.


In my opinion I much rather prefer diskless systems because I think they are much more flexible. You can do some of the things phoenix stated, such as running a hypervisor, and 3d video. This just doesn't seem possible in a thin client environment. Furthermore, I don't see why you can't have some of the advantages of a thin client system in a diskless environment. The things you mention are all just implementation details which could probably quite easily be done in a diskless setup. Also, in terms of power, I think the same could be achieved using atom based systems in a diskless environment.

Reply Parent Score: 2

phoenix Member since:
2005-07-11

""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 openoffice.org. 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

Reply Parent Score: 2