This chapter is intended to define and describe the thin client and smart display architectures
as implemented using Sun Ray technology and either Linux or Solaris on either x86 or SPARC.
The key points to be made include:
- Sun's hardware and software
combination (servers plus Sun Rays) can be used in most existing organizations
without making management or directional change. The
Secure Global Desktop, for example, can be applied in a Windows environment as nothing more than
a better, cheaper, Citrix. Doing this produces the usual thin client benefits - enhanced
manageability, better auditability, and reduced heat and noise generation on the desktop.
- There are sun ray laptops for use in WiFi environments.
- The most common application for the Sun Ray is in providing multiple service access
in high security environments. The combination of Solaris zones
on the server side with the inability of the user to corrupt the display device make it
a winner where national security is at stake and trusted computing an absolute requirement.
The Sun Ray 2FS extends this by offering fibre to the desktop - making it much harder to disrupt or
tap communications between the server and the user. This capability has a civilian use too: in production
floor or other harsh environments where electro-magnetic fields can have unpredictable consequences
for both wire based and wireless networking.
- The "eco-friendly" conformant environment may provide an emerging market opportunity for
the Sun Ray SMP/CMT combination.
Energy companies, for example, might want showcase executive
offices with high end desktop support at a small percentage (10 - 15%?) of traditional energy
requirements and therefore costs -e.g. one Sun Pod with a
T2000, an 8 way AMD, and a disk pack plus several hundred Sun Ray LCD desktops vs several hundred PCs and
Companies that own and rent office towers may be an even better market - because for every
dollar their tenants spend on PC power, they spend another fifty cents cooling the building. Thus
a building manager who's looking at daylighting as a cost cutting technology might want to piggy
back a Sun Ray deal for tenants - creating a shared smart display system for the building in which tenants
take ownership of their pieces.
- The smart display architecture has three layers: hardware including networking
gear, software, and management. Thus thin clients are about cheap and reliable service delivery; but
once you have that in place, going the the next step is about decentralizing IT decision making
and empowering your sysadmins to act directly on user requirements.
- From a hardware perspective the key issue is over-kill capacity. You want a lot of standby
computing power available to provide the fastest possible response to user requests - and you do
not want systems interuptions or resource limitations constraining what users can do or when they
can do it.
- From a software perspective you want to be able to maintain virtually perfect reliability,
essentially eliminate barriers to user experimentation with existing or new software and eliminate
spam, viruses, phishing, and related security issues as user concerns. That means Unix SMP, it means
migrating application support into the user community, and it means allowing open source code into
Notice that the absence of both the desktop PC and the networking complexities that go with it make it
possible to entirely eliminate help desk functions by moving first level applications support
into the user community. Your sysadmins will get, and field, home user and
related questions but you should generally consider those as part of the user relationship, not as an IT
- From a desktop provisioning perspective the key thing about the Sun Ray hardware is that it uses almost no
deskspace while producing no noise and little heat.
An extreme example: where power rates are sufficiently different between business hours and the midnight
demand trough hours, you could charge a typical PC sized UPS every night, and run your Sun Ray
on it all day.
- From a user productivity perspective the key thing is an odd interaction between reliability and
larger screen sizes. What happens is that users unlearn the distrust the PC evokes in terms of reliability,
and start to take advantage of the larger screens to do things like park monitoring applications in
their personal visual spaces, start to do more cut and paste between applications they can see, or just
start to make more effective use of the available information simply because they can see more of it.
- The central executive issue here is that the smart display architecture requires the CIO to
provide leadership - getting more brains focused
on a job - not management: co-ordinating more hands on a job.
- Success can be a career killer - because success equals corporate invisibility.
- What happens here is that squeaky wheels get the grease - or at least the executive face time, the budget
increases, and the staffing appropriations. Succeed with smart displays and you become
invisible to senior management: no more IT crisis meetings means no more face time; no cost overages means
no more budget increases, user control means no more span of
control increases, and so on.
- What often happens when the system works is that senior management assumes it's easy - and the next guy they
hire as CIO will destroy the structure -
and ultimately lead senior management to out-sourcing when budgets run amok
and users revolt against the newly disfunctional IT department.
- The career enhancing response is to drive IT into the revenue side of the business. Once you achieve
systems reliability and get
your sysadmins acting as user advocates to drive day to day IT control out to user management, you
become invisible to higher management -because IT no longer squeaks. But, you also get the opportunity to
work with those user managers to find new ways to drive revenue -and that enhances your corporate profile
in ways the traditional business of balancing on the thin edge of continuing failure cannot.
Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration.
Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related