Deploying Sun Rays: an introduction

[Editor's note: Although Paul Murphy is offline until August 7, he filed a series of chapter summaries for a book in progress on Sun Rays and the Smart Display Architecture.] 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.

[Editor's note: Although Paul Murphy is offline until August 7, he filed a series of chapter summaries for a book in progress on Sun Rays and the Smart Display Architecture.]

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 their servers.

    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 day-lighting 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 interruptions 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 production environments.

    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 organizational function.

     

  • From a desktop provisioning perspective the key thing about the Sun Ray hardware is that it uses almost no desk space 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 dysfunctional 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.

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