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Thin Client and Virtual Machines Thread, Is thin Client really worth it ? in Technical; I mean in financial terms. I had a salesdrone from Sun call me, trying to convice me to buy their ...
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    User3204's Avatar
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    Is thin Client really worth it ?

    I mean in financial terms. I had a salesdrone from Sun call me, trying to convice me to buy their stuff. We've got (locally) about 10 years worth of falling rolls, although it does look like a slight upturn after that (which means less budget). I'm hoping to be able to save money (so I can spend it elsewhere).
    I don't pay the electric bill, although they would be happy if I could reduce it, except when I check the shuttle KWH it's quite low.

    1. How long do thin clients really last in schools ? they reckon 10-15 years, but do the students not pull them apart ?

    2. We currently have shuttle computers which have very few mechanical parts, usually failures are motherboard related (the NIC, the PS/2 ports, are the main failures). So a thin client, which has no disk, is no better than this. Or is there something else that makes the Thin clients last longer ?

    3. A lot of figures are bandied about, but what ratio of servers to clients is actually necessary for a computer room ? Considering we'll get 30-35 machines per room all logging on at the same time, do we need 3 servers for this ?

    4. Is there anyone here that has had thin clients installed for 3-5 years in a school, AND is still happy ?

    Cheers.

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    linescanner's Avatar
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    We are a Sun partner and have deployed a load of Sun Ray across UK education. We have found that all our customers have really benefited from going down this route.

    Sun Ray does have a high life expectancy, estimated 220,000 hrs between failures.
    The advantage that Sun Ray has over traditional Thin Clients is that they are platform agnostic. We can paint Windows/Linux/Solaris or Mac through them. In the changing world of IT this flexibility is a cool option.

    Power saving is another big win. 200 Sun Ray 2 desktops will save roughly 12k-14k a year in energy costs over traditional Fat Clients

    Server centric computing also has other major benefits in maint and management. Sun Ray is Ultra Thin (no embedded OS), a firmware upgrade of 400 devices takes no mare than 60 seconds.

    To answer some of your questions

    1. See above on time to failure. Sun have customers that are using gen 1 Sun Ray that are 10 years old.

    2. No moving parts what so ever.

    3. This scaling needs to be done correctly. In a typical set up of ours we reckon 25-30 concurrent users per Terminal Server.

    4. Thin Client has only really become a really viable option over the last 2 years. All my customers have come back and bought more. I have one school that have over 400 (70% of school computing). They are all happy.

    The whole art to this is expectation management. Thin Client is not the answer to all. They do have limitations. Identify the areas where thin will not fit and use fat. The areas that it does fit in our opinion it is a no brainer.

    Hope this helps. If you need any more just drop me a PM

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    bizzel (18th December 2008)

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    mark's Avatar
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    Our Wyse terminals were well respected for 3 years. The following year kids were busting the USB ports and generally trashing the machines. Out of 35 of these terminals 3 are now still in use after 6 years. (no other TS Clients exist at all). Initially my school was 100% thin curriculum side. we had 110 terminals all together. 2 years down the line we introduced fat clients, and never added another thin device again.

    This was in an environment tho' where there was zero investment in the back end. Our whole school 'expected' to have speeding flash animations across the board and couldn't understand why you would have a device not capable of that. No subject area wanted machines that would only do terminal class tasks. I'm just saying this needs managing well.

    Andy's scaling advice is spot on in my experience. Sales people usually quote nearer the 50 client mark, which IMHO is fairyland.

    Also IMHO TC has it's place and implemented correctly is worthwhile.

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    localzuk's Avatar
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    Thin client systems can vary between their implementations greatly. For example, the Wyse terminals that are spoken of here sound like they're not really suited for a school environment, ie. they sound like the school has just stuck servers in the server room and expected them to do everything they want for years to come. Not going to happen I'm afraid.

    The system that we've gone with here works well. 2 servers for a classroom (35 machines). 1 server can handle the load on its own just about, but it works better with 2 and adds that bit of redundancy. We have Citrix on the server, which allows some offloading of processing to the clients (for example, if the kids all suddenly want to watch video or something), and it also allows for use of flash just fine.

    The key thing with thin clients is that you have to factor the many areas of cost into a TCO calculation. Capital expenditure, maintenance, your time, electricity, cooling etc...

    Regarding kids pulling the machines apart - it depends on what client you buy. For example, some clients are made from cheap plastics, and as such could be more liable to damage. Whereas some clients are made from solid metal cases.

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    Ric_'s Avatar
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    I have been using thin clients here for over 3 years. 250 out of 300 desktop devices are thin clients.

    You need to remember that thin clients will not do everything. However, it is possible to use the cost savings from using thin clients to buy machines better suited to specialist jobs.

    I bought approx. 60 second-hand Compaq T20 terminals when first implementing my Citrix solution. I am still using 20 of these - only replacing the others because of PSU failures and lack of remote management features (I am lazy and don't like walking across site when it's raining). These remaining T20 terminals will now be approx. 6 years old.

    It is important to factor in the replacement cost of the terminals too in your TCO. If you consider 5 years as a worst case replacement scenario compared to maybe the same replacement cycle for a desktop (if you are lucky) and you will still be saving about 50% on the device cost. On top of this is the fact that it takes seconds to deploy the client configuration settings.

    There's so much more I could talk about but the best thing to do is see an implementation actually in use. Until you experience the silence of a suite of thin clients, you really cannot appreciate how well they work for education. If you fancy a day trip, you could pop up to see me in Lancashire (near Blackpool).

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    I think you have to get the balance right, as people have said thin client does not do everything and in a school environment that counts big time as more and more heavy duty media apps are needed for the curriculum.
    Also costs are a major factor not only with hardware but licensing also which can add thousands to the TOC.
    Get the balance right and you will have a fantastic service which everyone will be pleased to use.

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    User3204's Avatar
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    It's about what I though, but it's good to get confirmation. Sun have passed my name and details onto a company called Kelway (apparently a partner), who will be getting to me in late January sometime.

    I had been been thinking I could replace a roomful of computers with half the cost of a normal room going to the terminals and the rest going to servers (at a 15:1 ratio), but if the servers and the terminals need replacing again after 5 years, this isn't saving me any money, as this is roughly my recycle ratio for these Shuttles (although the older shuttles do need RAM upgrades). Then I could use this room for standard subjects, but not Tech, ICT or Art.

    I had a look at an NEC solution a couple of years back, but it was relatively new then, so I decide not to go for it, it had the advantage of using VM images at the back end, so it ran any OS on the server. I suppose the Sun systems do this in a similar way.


    I have been promised an increased budget this year, to get the network system up to the standard I want (this includes getting servers rack-mounted VMed), so I might be able to wing this into the costs too. I've recently changed roles, which more management, so now, it's all my responsibility.



    Does anyone run SIMS on thin client successfully ?
    Either Sun or Citrix/whatever, I know I have seen people on here complaining that they have had "issues" like this. I've only got about 50-60 machines on the staff network, but they do their best at causing me more problems.

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    linescanner's Avatar
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    Re SIMS, all of the systems we have deployed are Running SIMS on Sun Ray and via SGD for working at home. We have a school where Sun Ray have been deployed just to run SIMS for staff.

    It has been a massive success.

    Drop me a PM for more info if you need any.

    Done properly Thin Client is a great asset, done badly it will cause headache after headache.

    The whole art is establishing where it will work and where it wont.

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    ChrisH's Avatar
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    CLEO uses SGD and it seems quite good apart from the fact you dont get a log on box if you have old SSL certificates installed like in every XP install. No error either most annoying.

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    I used to work for Sun; I used a SunRay everyday for 6-7 years.

    When we switched from workstations to SunRays, the power company thought we'd shut the site down, the energy saving was that huge.

    The current generation of SunRays with the inbuilt LCDs use something 4.5-7 watts, whereas a desktop uses around 100.

    The power saving is only one side of things, though.

    The biggest advantage and disadvantage of thin clients is the locking down that comes with it - it's easy to restrict what users can and can't do.

    This makes them great for browsing and office applications, but for not much else.

    Andy at the Cutter Project will be able to tell you more about Windows integration, but to my mind, you're best off just using them on UNIX (Linux or Solaris) with Firefox and OpenOffice or even Google Docs.

    Use fat clients to do fat client type stuff, e.g. media and the like. Use thin clients to do 90% of what people want ; browser and office. No need to worry about Windows for that.

    The admin side of things is pretty straightforward with SunRays. If you don't need to use Citrix or Tarantella for Windows support, then all you need is a fairly beefy server or two, a Solaris (or Linux if you must) installation, slap the SunRay server software on, answer a few questions, and off you go.

    The devices give you fairly good troubleshooting, providing you dig out the sunsolve infodoc on what the error codes mean (e.g. 21D, etc), which tells you the corresponding actions to take for each error code.

    If my users were confident enough to cope with the idea of having more than one office suite (2007 + OpenOffice), I'd put in SunRays running OpenOffice and Firefox on Solaris in communal areas.

    One last thing - I was in support, primarily OS & kernel, but one of my specialities was Sunray, particularly in the early days. In the 8 years I worked at Sun, I remember replacing only 2 SunRay units for customers. I'm sure there were more failures than that, but they really were pretty robust machines. No moving parts (apart from the speaker), and a very very very simple internal design with very little heat or power being put through them.

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    browolf's Avatar
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    my NM has been looking into this recently, he reckons pure budget wise it'd cost more in the long run. I think if we were able to factor in manpower costs on the upkeep and power usage it would be a lot cheaper but thats not really possible, we'd get given the same amount of money whether we'd save some elsewhere or not. If we had the know-how to setup a non-windows terminal system we'd be able to save on licensing costs but after 2 weeks failing to get ubuntu to talk to the domain properly i've had to give up on that idea.

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    I'd be interested to know how he's done the maths.

    The average life of a desktop PC is what, around 3 years? So, every 3 years, you're going to replace a desktop for around 250 or more, install it, deploy it, etc. Thin client, you should be able to just leave it alone for at least 5 years, probably a lot more.

    Yes, you will have server costs, but again, they're a one off (although upgrades are always nice).

    You save, as you say, on licensing and manpower, as well as a huge saving on energy.

    Getting Ubuntu to talk to an AD domain should be pretty straightforward - if you want a hand, feel free to PM me.

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    Here we get 6 years and sometimes 9 out of standard desktops. We generally go for higher spec than most schools so they last longer than the 3 years mentioned. The idea of half of your IT access only suitable for office and the web puts me off the thin client solution.

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    9 years! Blimey - are they really still able to cope with current apps after that long? i.e. can the machines you bought 9 years ago run Office 2007 at an acceptable pace?

    I wouldn't recommend thin client for your IT suite - that's where you want to do the interesting stuff, but for, say, a group of machines in a corridor, or backs of classrooms, etc, they are ideal. Low maintenance, low power, deploy and forget. Even in the staffroom; it'd be great to have a few machines in there that you didn't have to visit, so you wouldn't get pestered to do all those extra jobs every time you went in...

    I'm seriously considering putting in lots of SunRays for our junior end (2-6) ; they tend to use web applications or tux paint, for which sunrays on Solaris would be ideal. As I'm the only full time IT guy (and I'm teaching/HoD too), these are ideal, as I can deploy and leave them alone.

    When I took this job on, the whole school was terminal server based but using ancient desktops running XP as clients - i.e. fire the machine up, come back 30 minutes later and use Remote Desktop Connection to logon.

    That was just too restrictive and has caused more problems than it fixed as all my users are now very under confident; they're so used to not being able to sort things out for themselves that they won't even try. So I've gone round and made everything fat client again, and given many people admin rights for their own machines (but backed by a robust automated build system for when it all goes wrong).

    Next step is to put some thin client back in, but only where it's appropriate for the task. As I say, to my mind that's mostly browser/office apps. You can do much more with thin clients, but you can do that much more more easily with fat clients, so I advocate using thin only for the simple stuff. I kinda regard the EEE as an extension of it - a portable "thin-ish client" ; i.e. you'd only use it for the simple stuff, but it's still incredibly useful. 90% of what our kids need to do is research and write up, so a browser and openoffice is perfect. Same for staff.

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    Ric_'s Avatar
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    The only way that thin client can work out more expensive in the long term is if you exclude maintenance costs, energy costs and the cooling costs for ICT suites. Even then, your 'long term' can be no more than 5 years.

    @jsnetman: I dare say you can stretch your computers' lifespans to that extent. How much have you spent in upgrades and maintenance costs though? How many times have you re-imaged those machines?

    The reason that everyone says 3 years is because that is the term that a PC has a standard warranty for so you will have more predictable maintenance costs and it is unlikely that you will 'lose' many machines within that time.

    I'd also be very keen to see a school where more than 20% of their PCs are used for tasks that thin clients cannot handle for the majority of the time. Remember that, just because your rooms are used a certain way now, it doesn't mean that you can't re-arrange room timetables to make better use of the resources.

    The associated benefits regarding remote access and 'anywhere learning'

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