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Thin Client and Virtual Machines Thread, How to get started in thin client networking? in Technical; Greetings, New here. I am a network administrator for a smaller company. We have 35 people, 3 servers, network printers ...
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    How to get started in thin client networking?

    Greetings,

    New here.

    I am a network administrator for a smaller company. We have 35 people, 3 servers, network printers etc. I am the only NA that this company has. I spend a lot of time doing deskside support. We also have a small to midsize budget for IT.

    With that said, I am looking into moving over to thin client computing for our network, with the idea of me doing less deskside support, purchasing and upgrading desktops and laptops, and doing more on the network side of things.

    I have tried to dig up as much info as possible, but I am still sort of at a loss on where to start.

    I have gotten the approval to look into doing a test bed of sorts to test the functionality.

    Things we do are:

    1. We are a vendor company, with the majority of our work coming from a large software company.
    2. We Ras into our main clients network using smart cards to utilize their internal tools and apps.
    3. We do a lot of data crunching in excel spreadsheets, as well as using web based tools on thier internal network.
    We utilize Window software (windows servers, exchange server, Vista enterprise desktops etc.)

    That being said, can someone help me figure out what I need to set up a test bed?

    I was thinking of picking up 1-3 different types of thin or zero clients, and setting up a server to work with them.

    The key here is for the users to keep doing thier work as they always have, utilizing the smartcards/ras that they need to connect to our clients network (required), the ability of testing software on CD's/DVD's and keeping the users existing dual flat screen monitor setup.

    So what all do I need to get testing?
    Is there any trial software for a easy server setup?
    I have a spare server that I can load up with whatever to test with. I am also just finishing up getting everyone on GB ethernet.

    Thanks everyone for your help.

    Craig

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hunter_alexander View Post
    We have 35 people, 3 servers, network printers etc. <snip> The key here is for the users to keep doing thier work as they always have, utilizing the smartcards/ras that they need to connect to our clients network (required), the ability of testing software on CD's/DVD's and keeping the users existing dual flat screen monitor setup.
    Is thin client going to be worth the bother for 35 people, given all the client-side stuff you need to keep working? That's a single class' worth of machines for most of us here, not that many. Could you set each machine up as needed (dual screens, etc), with the main harddrive split in to two partitions, then take an image and store that somewhere for ease of restoring later? Get users to keep files on the second partition, or (better) on a backed-up network drive, so reimaging a machine doesn't lose them any work. Install all your software via Active Directory or some kind of script, don't include it in the disk images as that makes it tricky to update later.

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    Well the thing is that we are growing. It is only me doing everything, ( including phone support which isnt all that bad). All in all I stay pretty busy trying to do the all the stuff I do, as well as trying to do development work.


    What I am looking at this is to cut down the deskside support aspect, so I can concentrate on more development work/network administration.

    Its manageable now, but if we keep growing the way we are, I am going to be swamped. From all that I have read, thin client or zero client setups cuts down or eliminates the deskside support aspect, as pretty much everything is managed on the server side of things (ie. less of me running to each persons desk to fix things).

    We are also looking at running out of space in our current location and the idea of a remote location has been tossed around. There is no way I am going to be able to support 2 locations software and hardware physically by myself.

    Its a great job here, great atmosphere great people. They will not hire nor do I want them to hire another person to help me.

    Just looking to streamline some things.

    Am I thinking about this wrong?

    Any insight is appreciated.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hunter_alexander View Post
    Am I thinking about this wrong?
    Possibly. What is it you're spending all your time going from machine to machine to fix in the first place? Could you just sort out a clean image of Windows for each workstation and re-image if there's any problems? How much software do you have to install? Script the install of each package so you can re-install a re-imaged machine automatically.

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    Ok, sorry, but rather than go into my daily workload, I would like to just figure out how to set up a testbed of sorts for thin client or zero client computing.

    I have a spare server, Win2003 R2 on it.

    I was looking at Citrix. Any advice on what all components are needed to set up for testing? Can this be done with their trial software?

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    Axel's Avatar
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    Craig,

    As you were getting so little feedback, here's my 2 cents worth. To start with all you need is your W2003 server and a thin client. You can contact Axel in Florida, they'd be delighted to loan you an evaluation thin-client.

    Axel: United-States

    You needn't worry about licensing, Microsoft give a 90 day grace period when you will be able to fully connect the thin client. (After this period the terminal server will refuse the connection until a TSCAL licence is bought)

    This will give an insight in thin clients and what they do/are and how they connect etc

    Citrix/Metaframe/Presentation Server/XenDesktop is another 'layer' that sits on top of Windows that gives extra functionality. There are lots of comments on Edugeek about Citrix and its merits versus its costs. Probably for 30 users you wouldn't need it,

    Hope that helps to get you started....

    Matthew

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    Quote Originally Posted by Axel View Post
    Craig,

    As you were getting so little feedback, here's my 2 cents worth. To start with all you need is your W2003 server and a thin client. You can contact Axel in Florida, they'd be delighted to loan you an evaluation thin-client.
    Hell you don't even need the thin client to get playing with. For testing purposes...

    Win2k3 in a VM on a 180day trial
    And RDP session from any random computer.

    If it looks like it could be of use after that then move on to dedicated thin-client hardware. Maybe, if you have a few old PC's lying around, it could be worth playing with :: Thinstation - a light, full-featured Linux thin client OS :: before spending money our on Thin Clients.

    If the tests are successful and it does what you want then spend the money out on a server, dedicated TC hardware and the full win2k3 OS and CALs.

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    Thanks for the fast replies.

    I am very familiar with RDP. We use it quite a bit to remote onto our clients servers to perform some work.

    That being said, Remote desktop is not quite what I am after. I am looking to test a thin client or zero client to see how well it works with what we do.

    The idea for the user to sit at their desk, power up the thin client, put in their logon, have a desktop that is just like them sitting at their computer they have now, and perform all the functions that they do now, but with the ease of centralized administration, lower costs, etc.

    I wasnt sure if I could use a thin client to just connect to a MS server running terminal server. I thought I would need citrix or some other software to suppy the desktop and apps from the server side.

    Trying to learn.

    Thanks all.

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    RDP is a thin client - and with terminal services a many user to one server situation is a breeze.

    You can connect to it straight from boot - seamless to the user- have a look at :: Thinstation - a light, full-featured Linux thin client OS ::

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    You can - to keep it simple all you need is the terminal server and a thin-client. (It sounds like you want to evaluate thin clients, not PC's running RDP, but of course a PC would happily connect to your terminal server using its native RDP client...)

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    Thanks everyone.

    David, sorry, I hope I didnt come off as rude. Just wanted to stay focused on the main reason I am here. I probably could have worded my original post better. I will create a different thread on the virtues or lack thereof on if I should switch to thin client networking.

    Domino - I will read up on thinstation. Thanks. I know that RDP is a form of thin client. I guess that I am just used to the standard way of using it, being on a workstation running some flavor of windows, and using RDP onto a server. I wasnt aware that you could use it right from boot. Seamless is what I am after, since, to a user, anytime you make any change, they scream and holler until they are educated on the uses and functionality. (and even then they will keep screaming).

    Axle - Yeah, I think the thin client aspect is what I am after. How or what do I need to set up on the terminal server to allow the thin client to connect? How does the terminal server supply the desktop image for the thin client?

    I am probably getting all the different technology confused (read a ton on different tech that can be used) but I guess I was thinking of the citrix form where you create an master image that everything else is based from, and then for each user you add the different things they need to use.

    Basically how does it work with Terminal server and thin clients?

    Any links to some good, concise reading on it?

    Thanks again

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    tmcd35's Avatar
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    There is zero difference between a Thick Client running RDP and and dedicated thin client - the Terminal Server dishes up the same desktop. If you've used and are familiar with RDP to connect to and manage your server then for the most part Thin Clients work in exactly the same way.

    All a Thin Client (like the Axel ones) are is a basic computer in a very small box that boots directly into an RDP session connected to your server.

    :: Thinstation - a light, full-featured Linux thin client OS :: takes an old thick client desktop and turns into a thin client but booting a cut down Linux OS directly into an RDP session connected to your server.

    On the server side the work pretty much comes down to four things...
    1. Install Terminal Server Components
    2. Install a License server
    3. Provide the license server with details of how meny TS CALs you have purchased (how meny RDP sessions/Thin Clients can connect to the server at the same time)
    4. Set up a default user profile with all the correct security permissions so users don't have free rome over your Win2k3 server once they are connected.


    EDIT:

    As for Citrix, in this context it is a bolt-on to MS Terminal Server. So you need to set up a Terminal Server and have all the TS-CAL's before you can get Citrix. Citrix works in the same way at MS Terminal Server/Remote Desktop. The key difference is they use their own ICA protocol in instead of RDP. ICA provides a faster desktop response rate than RDP so things like flash animations on a web page will be smoother.

    Another option worth considering (though even more expensive than either RDP or Citrix AFAIK) is VMWare View. This is were each end user have their own Virtual Machine running on the server which provides them with a desktop.
    Last edited by tmcd35; 4th August 2009 at 09:18 PM.

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    dhicks's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tmcd35 View Post
    On the server side the work pretty much comes down to four things...
    Just a few practical tips to add, from experience installing SIMS (a schools-specific MIS, not the game...) on a terminal services machine:

    SIMS under terminal services
    SIMS.net & TS

    Set up your Server 2003 / 2008 machine, get it all up-to-date with Windows Update, then get a disk image of it before you configure the Terminal Services role. That way, if you mess up it just takes you a few minutes to role back to a fresh start.

    Install applications on the TS server from a command prompt, after first running "change user /install". This sets the Terminal Server into "install" mode. Theoretically, Windows is seemingly supposed to spot an install application and automatically switch to "install" mode, but in practice this depends somewhat on the age/quality of the application you are installing, so you might want to explicitly switch mode first.

    Your users will need permission to connect to the Terminal Server. This confused the heck out of me. In the end, I added all the users who needed access to the Terminal Server to a security group in the domain, then added that domain group to the Remote Logon Users group of the terminal server. Adding the group to the domain version of that group didn't make any difference. If you don't have a domain, you'll need to create user accounts on your Terminal Server for each user and make sure you add them to the Remote Logon Users group.

    As far as terminals go, you can re-use your existing desktop machines (change over one night, see if the users actually notice any difference...) by using ThinStation, as has been pointed out. You can also get dedicated terminals, which are nice and small, generally silent and low-powered, and these days you can get ones that will screw to the back of a monitor via the VESA mount or that are even small enough to be hidden away in the trunking with the network wiring. You can get terminals cheap off eBay, and there's often job lots on offer, so you could buy a few to see how you get on.

    Do check your terminal can handle whatever graphics you want to use with it, think beforehand - if some of your users have dual (or triple?) screen set-ups, or widescreen monitors, you might have to go for snazzier terminals.

    If you do decide to move your organisation over to terminals, budget a decent amount for the server - stuff it full of RAM, get a quad-core processor and a proper RAID controller card and decent harddrives. You might want to keep an older server around as a backup - if your central server fails, no-one can log on to do any work, not even on their local machine.

    You can always dual-boot your existing machines. If they don't already boot over PXE then add new network cards (£10 each, cheap), then you have a backup system if all else fails.

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    Does Thin-Station support smartcards and dual monitors, as Craig initially specified...?

    If you get a problem who do you go to to get support...?

    Like for example if you want dual monitor support, Thinstation being open source, who do you call ?

    I guess the answer is get out your Kernigan and Ritchie C Programers Guide, buy a pizza and gallon of coke and get to work

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    If you can get away without MS software on your 'local' clients also look at the Sun Ray solution as this may save a considerable amount of money.

    You mention that a major part of the solution is remoting into 'client' machines. If your office productivity solution can be OpenOffice/StarOffice and your CMS is web-based, Sun Ray is ideal. Switch to Solaris/Redhat and all is well.

    Sun Rays support a multitude of smart cards too and can even integrate with you phone/unified comms solution if you use Mitel.

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