The wonders of Thin Client Computing

On Saturday I ran a computer training course for the Nene Valley Methodist Circuit. Late on Friday I wrote a little about how it was going to fit into a hectic schedule (42: Another quiet weekend).

Now that it has happened and was well received I want to reflect on how Sun Ray thin clients helped.

I have run many IT training courses over the years, some of them in out of the way places using rented PC’s (Cyprus, Nairobi, Bangalore, Miami, Copenhagen, middle of nowhere in Norway, Reading [UK]).

I have run courses on PC’s running MsDos and on Windows 3.1 through Windows XP (Also including some using Desqview, OS/2 and Windows NT). Networks have included nothing, Novell Networks (mostly 2.x and 3.x) with both coax and cat 5 cabling, Linux servers running Samba and Windows NT Server.

This time was different.

I used our home server (a Sun Fire V20z, 2 x 64 bit Opteron processors, 4gb ram, running Ubuntu 6.10 and Sun Ray Server Software 3.1). Connected to that I had 11 Sun Ray 1G’s with a wide variety of monitors (all I could scrounge) one of which was a data projector.

All the Sun Ray 1G’s were in their original unopened packaging (2 boxes each, one for the 1G and the other for the keyboard/mouse/power cables).

From a starting point of everything in the training room, still in boxes or piles where it came out of the car to the course starting with 11 people logging in was just under two hours. That included getting tables out of storage as well as connecting and setting up broadband router, firewall, wifi router (for my laptop), server, network printer, 11 Sun Ray’s (including 2 monitors and 1 projector that I had never used with a Sun ray before). I had one person to help with the Sun Ray connections (he had never seen a Sun Ray before so I connected one and said copy that while I get all the others out of their boxes), other than that I was on my own (oh yes someone else got the chairs out).

The course ran from 10am til 4pm with 11 people using their Sun Rays continuously except for an hour for  lunch when we connected a Wii to the projector and did some bowling and tennis.

During the 5 hours of use nothing crashed, nothing failed and nothing needed restarting.

It was only at the point when they all logged in that I realised that late the previous night I had not added one person as a user, so that delayed his login for about a minute while I created him from my terminal. That was made easy because I stayed logged in with a course login on the Sun Ray with no smart card inserted, but could insert my smart card at any time to switch to my normal login with administrative rights (of course I could have opened a terminal window and via su used the command line, but the GUI is easy and works fine).

The Church Hall where we held the event turned out to not have any electrical sockets except on the stage. So we had to run all the Sun Ray’s, 1 network switch, the printer and the projector off 3 sockets using reel extension cables – two of which have automatic cut off’s if a load of 5 amps is exceeded. I don’t think that would have been possible with PC’s.

None of the participants had ever used Linux before, none had used OpenOffice and I think 2 had used Firefox – but none of these caused them any problems and did not cause any frustration.

One feature I liked was when we were looking at web page creation, as an example I installed Nvu, using the Synaptic package manager. It downloaded and installed faster than I could explain that it was one of 2800 application available for free and of course instantly and automatically appeared on everyone’s application menu.

For noise purposes I had the firewall and server running in a separate room with just two network cables coming into the hall (to printer and to network switch). That meant we only had 3 fans running (projector, switch and printer) – that was hugely better than the noise of 11 PC’s on a hard floor.

This was definitely the quickest, least stressful and most effective IT solution I have ever been able to set up for a training course. Next time it will be even quicker as I won’t have all the fiddly packaging to remove from the power cables, keyboards and mice.

Of course for people doing a lot of training the low extra cost & time of adding extra terminals compared to PC’s is fantastic as is the minimal space needed to store Sun Ray’s between courses.

In summary awesome!

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