The cheapest Ray of Sunshine

It's been my experiencethat Sun Ray systems sell themselves when people see and try them, but that most people - bosses andtechies alike- reject the idea in the abstract
Written by Paul Murphy, Contributor on
One of my defenestration guide readers sent me an email last week asking for advice on transitioning from Linux application services delivered on older PCs via xdmcp to doing the same thing with Sun Rays and Solaris 10.

He lists a number of specific concerns, ranging from culture shock to cost and backwards compatibility with what he's got in place - including a major application on a proprietary, non-Microsoft OS that's going off support.

Today I want to address only the cost issue, not because it's terribly important in itself, but because you never get to the important implementation and benefit issues if you can't cross the cost barrier.

Here's that part of the question:


What would you suggest would be the best way to acquire _inexpensive_ server hardware that would allow me to test a Solaris/Sun Ray setup for about 20 users?

First, be choosy about who you deal with. I've had the edifying experience of having a major Sun reseller in New York first deny the existence of Sun Rays and then tell my client that he couldn't use one at home without also installing a local SPARC server. So, first things first: Find someone knowledgeable to talk to at Sun or a local reseller, and if the person they assign based on their idea of territory or the first letter in your company's name doesn't meet spec, tell them to assign someone else. Don't be shy about this: you need someone who's competent and enthused. Idiots are a drag on the market - just say no.

Once you've found a knowledgeable salesperson to talk to, start by giving some serious thought to your own custom software. Is there something in your inventory that offers unique value to other members of your industry but wouldn't hurt you competitively if widely deployed? Do you have a hot software idea (or know someone that does and sees your company as an ideal test site) that just needs some time and support to turn commercial?

If so, sit down with that local Sun representative and talk about the developer partnership programs. You get a great deal on the hardware, an even better deal on all the Sun software you'll ever want, and a pretty good marketing partner ready to help when you get the stuff working.

If that doesn't appeal, give some thought to the various trade-in programs. 15% or 20% off isn't much, but it's 15% or 20% off and most people do have some qualifying junk laying around - and a few dollars spent via eBay can turn into many more dollars in discounts.

With that out of the way, and supposing you don't want to be a developer, you can get into the game with the most basic Sun model: the stripped down Ultra 20. This isn't actually an ultra: it's an Opteron that sells for all of $895 including three years of warranty support. Get a 20-inch or bigger Sun or HP monitor (i.e. one made by Sony) from somewhere like your own storage room, eBay, or somebody's garage and you have a working system for around a thousand bucks.

Remember: anything you can do on the workstation screen, you can do on a Sun Ray - and conversely, there's (almost) nothing you can do on a Sun Ray that you can't also do on the workstation.

Learning to use Solaris is easy -make friends with bigadmin, figure out how to set up and run makewhatis, and you'll have access to all the information you need.

Once you get comfortable with Solaris, get some more memory for that Model 20 and add two Sun Ray 1gs (list $404 with Unix keyboards and mice) with the biggest screens you can scrounge and get the software you need via Sun's early release program. That way you'll have a three user demo system for something like $2,000.

Once your bosses see how slick this really is, they'll be ready to buy a pitch on signing up for Sun's per employee software pricing (from $50 to $190 depending - as far as I can tell - on somebody's mood somewhere) as part of an overall "systems modernization" effort put together using one of Sun's recurring 20 user "building block" Sun Ray promotions.

Three final words of advice:


  1. Play it smart: keep your Sun guy in the loop right from the beginning, and he'll find you ways to improve on this - probably, for example, getting you credit for what you already have on the upgrade to the full 20-user package;


  2. Tell Sun you're getting the 19" or bigger LCDs you want with those Sun Rays from Dell -I'm pretty sure they'll quietly match the price; and,


  3. Try not to tell your bosses what you're really up to until you're ready to demo -maybe put the focus in your initial discussions on doing something about the dependence on that proprietary box that's going off support soon? It's been my experience that Sun Ray systems sell themselves when people see and try them, but that most people - bosses and techies alike- reject the idea in the abstract, so don't put them in the position of having to change their minds once they see how they work.

Oh, and don't buy the Java cards, they're silly for your purposes.

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