Thursday Apr 03, 2008

Serving Sun Rays from inside a VirtualBox

Imagine you have some Sun Ray[tm] clients and you'd like to use them with some hardware which doesn't support Solaris. Or maybe you're running OSX, Windows or Ubuntu on some hardware which has some spare cycles but isn't running an OS which is supported by SRSS.

  1. Download a copy of VirtualBox for your operating system.
  2. Download a copy of Solaris 10 which is supported by SRSS3 and SRSS4.
  3. Download a copy of Sun Ray Server Software. I used SRSS 4.0 09/07. Note:Some GNU/Linux distributions are also supported, and SRSS can be forced to work with some unsupported Linux distributions and versions of OpenSolaris. But I'll stick with Solaris 10u5, it's reasonably lightweight and solid. [Read More]

Wednesday Jun 20, 2007

Outsource your IT energy consumption with Sun Ray

I worked a few days from my home town, Racine, Wisconsin because it was the most convenient stopping off point for our trip to a Caribbean Wedding (You might not have heard the phrase, "Wisconsin -- gateway to the Caribbean?") During one Wednesday evening sailboat race I looked back at the base of the new smokestacks which will soon dominate the skyline over Wind Point penninsula. Two years ago the Wisconsin Public Service Commission made the unfortunate choice of continuing the almost exclusive dependence on coal energy. The construction of two massive new coal power plants promised to bring much-needed jobs to the area and here, deep in the rust belt, that's all it takes for almost any project to have overwhelming public support. The thermal pollution alone will impact an area of Lake Michigan the size of West Virginia.

Few people want such behemoths in their back yard but most of us use the services this electricity provides. The Great Lakes states aren't ideal for most alternative energy sources. Norway and California have higher mountains for hydropower, Iceland and New Zealand have more potential for geothermal, Florida, Texas and North Africa have better potential for solar energy. Ideally we could transport alternative energy from places where it is more easily produced. For example, Ireland could produce 7 times its energy consumption in wind energy. Denmark occasionally produces more than 100% of its consumption from wind power and Iceland is close to acheiving carbon neutrality by utilizing its geothermal and hydroelectric resources. But overhead power lines add their own visual pollution and provide a vulnerable target for lightning strikes and wind damage. Until stable, room temperature superconductors are a reality, I\^2R losses will make it impractical to plug our PCs into a cheap utility halfway around the world.

But then I thought about the energy I was using while working remotely. My Sun Ray client was consuming about 4 watts of coal power, the monitor consumed another dozen or so but my local consumption was much less than it would have been if I'd used a Windows P.C. Most of my IT energy needs were being serviced by a utility in Ireland and a percentage of this electricity was generated from an offshore wind farm. I was working squarely in coal country where every kilowatt/hour I consume produces over 2 pounds of carbon dioxide, but I was using wind power. Could this be extended to corporations and expanded so that IT service providers could set up their servers where energy is cheap and clean? I will tell you that it is technically possible. I had expected that the trans Atlantic use of a Sun Ray client would be slow because of the latency in what I assumed would be one or more satellite hops. But for what I was doing (email, terminal, web browser, office applications), the Sun Ray performance was fine. In fact I found that for email it was faster than the laptop. When I select a message on the laptop, the entire contents of the email had to come through VPN from the IMAP server to the client on the laptop and rendered on the screen but when I select a message on the Sun Ray, most of the work was being done locally on the server in Ireland and only the relatively small final rendered email text was compressed and transferred to the client. I intended to video the Sun Ray vs Laptop comparison for upload to joost and demonstrate that I could easily run the client from a couple of cheap 1 foot square amorphous Solar panels but I ran out of time.

Someone could profit from this by advertising: "Reduce your IT energy bill and carbon footprint, move your IT business logic to our servers in sunny Australia!" (or windy Ireland, wavy Scotland...) Would this work? Do real-world companies, governments and other IT consumers pay for the hunk of hot hardware on their desk, or do they really just want the service that that hunk of hot hardware provides?

I suppose by posting this here I ruin my chances of being the world's first IT energy consumption outsourcing consultant but I like working for Sun and if someone else succeeded at this, it would be good for everyone... except possibly the guy who had planned to sell 1215 train car loads of coal to WE Energy's Oak Creek plant every day.

Tuesday May 29, 2007

Fraunhofer Institute study shows economic and ecological advantages of thin clients

A recent study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT in Oberhausen, Germany showed that thin clients can significantly reduce costs, energy consumption and CO2 output. The study considered production, transportation, use and disposal phase of traditional "wintel" PCs vs typical thin clients and the servers necessary for their use. While its important that a respected institute for environmental science did this study, in my opinion, the study underestimated the potential savings in energy usage and CO2 output. The study did not specifically consider Sun Ray ulta-thin clients (4 Watts), but even the 14-19 Watt IGEL thin clients considered in the study required much less energy than a typical desktop PC (68-96 Watts) in the use phase. The study concluded that, "Even when including the cooling power for the server, which has been estimated conservatively as twice the required power, thin clients use significantly less energy than PCs (factor 2)".1 Obviously when you add production, transport and disposal costs, thin clients win hands down. Thin and ultra-thin clients don't yet meet the average hacker or gamer's desktop needs, but for most enterprise uses, the advantages are becoming clearer every day. You can find a pdf report on the full study here.

1The study appeared to overlook the fact that typical enterprise use of desktop PCs also requires a server.

Article resubmitted to correct spelling in title, article and permalink. Thanks Rudi!

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