Unix business architecture example

Instructors who choose to use the Sun Rays will be relieved of the entire Windows cost and administrativeburden - no reboots, no patches, no surprise costs, no viruses, no worms. And, most surprisingly, no weight: theycan be typing something on their office Sun Ray, pull the java card out, walk to the classroom, plug the cardin, and continue typing where they left off

The key components of the Unix Business Architecture are:


  • Minimal manpower, centralized processing, decentralized control


  • Unix servers (Linux, Solaris,or BSD)


  • Smart display desktops (e.g. Sun Ray)


  • Playphones, Laptops, and/or custom hand helds for roaming use


  • Network printing and other services


  • Organizational support for Linux (or BSD) and Macs at home


  • Simplified networking with integrated telco services support

So lets imagine that we want to configure this architecture for a specialty school with a two year curriculum, 70 instructors, 30 administrative and non IT support staff, 30 classrooms, and 500 students.

Lets also assume that new faculty and incoming students worship at the Microsoft alter but that the school does not want to turn the classrooms into impromptu computing labs with students ostensibly taking notes on laptops, but actually scanning the net and messaging each other while the lecturer talks to himself. Instead, school policy calls for small classes with maximal classroom participation and therefore requires that all lesson plans, assignments, and class notes be available for easy access on school servers.

To support this the technology plan calls for projector equipped network access in each classroom, twenty or so network printers scattered in the library and administrative areas, and, of course, smart displays on every instructor desk. In addition there are to be a total of 100 computer equipped student carrels scattered across the library, near classrooms, and in groups of four or five adjacent to instructor and administrative offices.

So what will this take?

Well, for redundancy we're going to hire two IT staff who will work together during busy periods like initial setup and the annual intake week, but then shift to a rotating job schedule alternating two weeks of "front up" support responsibility with two weeks of project work. Figure, all in, $160,000 per year for staff.

Then we're going to buy gear, lots of gear - and all of it at list price (as if!):

Product Number Total Cost Purpose
Sun Ray 1g, with java cards10236,600Instructor and Admin offices
Dell 24" wide aspect LCD102122,300Instructor and Admin offices
Sun Ray 170, 17" LCD135141,600Student Carrels and classrooms
Dell 5100MP Projectors34118,900classrooms/conference rooms
Kyocera KM-C2630D (4) and FS-5030N (16) Color network printers2087,300In Controlled areas
Sun V890 Servers -8 US4+ CPUs, 32GB, 6 x 146GB2248,100 Computing center
Apple SATA RAID arrays, each with 7TB & dual 512MB controllers.451,900Computing center
Sun enterprise software license240 users24,000 (annually)Everything, for everybody
Sun 2500 Workstation, 2 CPU, 21" LCD, 4GB, 2 x 146GB US3220,700 IT Admins
Capital Total850,000Five year Total1,882,000

Note that I would normally include consideration of telephony costs here - specifying VoIP for external contact, video conferencing for internal contact, and DSL services for dialup broadband support within the local "telco radius" (typically 19,000 feet). Configuring Avaya pod (including TCP/IP switching and remote hubs) is, however, largely dependent on your telco and pricing their products can be very tricky - so I'm just going to round up the cost here at a rate of about $650 per connection including having them wire the campus, to suggest that the initial cost for the system will come in at about a million, and the five year cost, exclusive of things like power and external connectivity, is going to run somewhere around two million.

You should also note that performance on this system will generally improve on the typical corporate client-server set-up. It's possible, of course, to create scenarios in which it's slower for some users or some of the time - but in general, the fact that we have lots of CPU and I/O on servers while transmitting only display information means that the Sun system will deliver results from the server faster than PCs would.

Consider, for example, what happens right after 9:00 or whatever starting time is and everyone wants to load their email. In the corporate world with consolidated PC services that will hit one Exchange Server on one Xeon - meaning that some people will wait ten minutes to get their mail up. More likely, however, this will hit four Exchange Servers on four Xeons and most people will get their mail up in about a minute - or two. In the Sun Ray case, there will be 16 available CPUs, no network transfer burden, and no file handover processing - meaning that most users will have full access in less than 10 seconds. (And that's true even if the software is written in JAVA -an abbreviation from the Friulian meaning "Go buy more hardware.")

The school's basic software will all be from Sun and/or open source -from web services, to open office, to on-line examination and financial management. The official policy will be that the school permits any student or instructor to connect anything for downloading or informational access, but uses only Unix, including Linux and MacOS X.

This makes the Wintel choice the user's choice. Any student or new instructor can show up with the classic Wintel laptop and make use of it just by plugging in at a desk - or they can use the Sun Ray and move files easily between the two environments. Laptop connections will use DCHP, but wi-fi will not be permitted and all other network devices will use fixed addresses.

Instructors who choose to use the Sun Rays will be relieved of the entire Windows cost and administrative burden - no reboots, no patches, no surprise costs, no viruses, no worms. And, most surprisingly, no weight: they can be typing something on their office Sun Ray, pull the java card out, walk to the classroom, plug the card in, and continue typing where they left off. If they live nearby, or have a clean broadband connection from home, they can extend their office into their home: a home Sun Ray gives them a no noise, high reliability, virus free, and and fully secure way to do that.

The initial cost looks relatively high - certainly more dollars than a minimal Windows infrastructure would require. Look at it over five years, however, and there are both obvious and non obvious savings. The obvious ones lie in the direct cost of ownership - the two million dollar number includes 15% per year for service contracts and upgrades but the five year cost per supported desktop still comes to less than $1,700 per year -significantly below that of a comparable Wintel architecture in part because you don't change the hardware and software every few years but mainly because running all this is trivial - the only reason we have two people is that, at least in systems, two is the minimum of anything.

It's the unobvious savings, however, that really count. In this environment the computers "just work." There are no security issues, no re-installs, no lost files, no reboots, no daily patches, no help desk to wait for, nothing: the whole joyful Windows support experience is gone - users don't even have to squint at a laptop on their desk just so they can carry their computing environments around: it's on a java card, and they can have a 24 inch desktop without suffering a mobility penalty or doubling their support effort.

So what does all this mean? It means that IT builds strong relationships with users, it means that there's a bored and underemployed IT guru eager to help with experimental projects, research, or data conversion. It means 70 instructors saving time every day, so they can focus on teaching or research, not interrupt themselves to futz with Windows. It means that the administrative staff administrates the school - not their desktops. It means students waste nobody's time attacking the system, asking how to download instructions, or complaining their browser enabled MP3 phone won't let them attach notes to your downloaded class notes - all of that just goes away.

And that's really most of Carl's answer: smart displays let you centralize processing, but decentralize control.

Start seeing the IT job as one of implementing user decisions, not as one of guarding corporate resources, and the world changes around you. That's what makes the smart display architecture smart: IT people get more out of the job, users get better services, and the overall focus shifts to making money, not saving it.