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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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

phoenix Member since:
2005-07-11

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


We looked into doing something similar when we first embarked on our thin-client setups. However, we gave up on the idea of network booting Windows stations, as you still need a full install of Windows for each computer (or each class of hardware anyway). And all the management tools still required Windows. And all the licensing costs involved. We stopped looking at Windows solutions very early on, as we could not afford the licensing or hardware costs to run Windows XP.

We do use FreeBSD + ZFS for our backups server, though, for all the data safety and snapshotty goodness that ZFS provides. Rsync + ZFS snapshots makes for an amazing backup system for Unix. We backup 85 Linux and FreeBSD servers every night to our FreeBSD box, take a snapshot of it, and transfer the snapshot off-site during the day to another FreeBSD box. So far, we have 6 months of daily backups for all those servers, with the individual files easily accessible via the shell. ZFS just makes life so much simpler. ;)

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

Kebabbert Member since:
2007-07-27

Ok, we are missunderstanding each other. That is why I suspected you didnt know anything about thin clients.





What I call Ultra-Thin-Client, you call a Dumb-Terminal. Lets call them UTC for short. As far as I know, there is no vendor offering UTCs, other than SUN with SunRay. All vendor's thin clients are essentially a diskless weak PC with 1GHz CPU and 256MB RAM. Making them unusable for heavy work. SunRay is unique in that is a true UTC. It is a graphical variant of the dumb text terminals. But you can run Windows/Linux/Solaris with VMware and RDP on SunRay.





When I talk about one quad core driving 40 clients, I mean one quad core driving 40 UTCs. One user normally requires 1-2GB RAM and 1-2 GHz of CPU. It should be near impossible for one dual core and 4 GB RAM server to drive 30-40 UTCs. Therefore I doubted your claims (misunderstanding).

Of course a dual core and 4GB RAM server would suffice for 30 diskless PCs. That is no doubt, the server would almost act as a file server. Any OS would suffice for that task, even Windows. But I am talking about dumb terminals. There is no way a dual core and 4GB RAM server can drive 40 dumb terminals.

So I point out that a quad core can drive roughly 40 SunRays (i.e. dumb terminals). Of course you need lots of RAM for driving 40 SunRays. Each SunRay user needs 256-512 MB RAM on the server which is really good, considering how much memory the user would require if he used a dedicated PC instead.





Regarding thin client vs diskless PC. I consider them more or less, the same thing. Same, same but different. Both use a rather weak CPU and has little RAM. The diskless PC has slightly better stats, but the thin client has an OS to patch and maintain.As I mentioned, a HP thin client booted in 7 minutes, someone told me yesterday.

After a few years you have to upgrade the thin clients/diskless PCs, because they can not handle the new OS and new software versions. Worst case, you have to upgrade them all (very expensive), or worse, ditch all diskless PCs and buy new ones. With SunRay, you instead upgrade the server and at once all the SunRays have been upgraded. You can always use your SunRays, they never need to upgrade. Use them for 22 years, if you wish. They always handles the latest OS and newest software excellent. It is much cheaper to upgrade one server, than upgrade all diskless PCs. It is much cheaper to administer one quad core server, than to administer 40 diskless PCs. In the future, the servers will be dual octo core and have 128GB RAM, then the SunRays will be extremely fast. SunRay are future proof. Diskless PCs are not.

Diskless PCs also suck as much energy as a normal PC. Compare that to 4Watt SunRay. Say you have 1000 diskless PC each using 100 watt. That is 100,000Watt. With SunRay, that is 4000Watt.

You have no serious performance with diskless PC if you need to do say, a heavy compilation. With SunRay, you have as much power as the server has. A server will always be much much more powerful than a diskless PC or thin client. If you are alone on the server, then all it's powers is yours.

The only thing you can not do with SunRay, is high bandwidth graphics. You can watch movies at 500x500 windows without lagg. But that is graphic intense, compared to ordinary office usage and software development. For all other uses than watching movies, SunRay does it excellent. Many SunRay servers dont have any graphic card. The server generates bitmaps in RAM and sends to each SunRay. Each SunRay requires ~30KByte/sec for normal office usage.





They never break, average life expectancy is 22 years. SunRay is a small plastic box, very similar to a VHS cassette. It is just another keyboard or mouse, an input device. Can not be hacked. You can have dozens of them in a drawer. Should you need another work station, just insert SunRay into the router/hub and you are done. Anyone could do that.

Hot desking is also supported. Insert your security card and you have logged in. Then withdraw the card and insert it into another SunRay and you are back immediately where you left.

You can use SunRay over internet. One at work and one at home. You will login into your work environment.

If we speak about low end gear (as you do about diskless PC), you can find refurbished SunRay at 40 USD on Ebay. That is cheaper than a low end diskless PC. Never need upgrading too. A new one cost 200 USD. But they never break. Use them forever.

Here is an article about U.S Army switching to SunRay for their class rooms and saving lots of work and energy and money.
http://www.sun.com/customers/software/usaic.xml

There are Linux only solutions with SunRay. You dont have to use VMware and Windows XP. You can run everything as normal Linux users, creating normal Linux accounts, etc.

Reply Parent Score: 2