Revisiting thin clients

Paul Murphy has an blog entry on replacing laptops with Sun Rays, and gives some reasoning of how to go about gaining acceptance. One of the reader comments hits two fallicies in one fell swoop.

  • I don't want a Telco to tell me what I can and cannot do on MY system. The context Paul gave was one of business ownership of assets, not individual ownership. The individual doesn't own the laptop, the company does. As such, the company has the right to manage its assets as it sees fit. Unfortunately, with today's regular use of the asset, on goes customer data (huge risk). On goes company data (risk). The issue, of course, is that everyone still thinks the laptop is theirs and acts like it is theirs. On goes mp3 player of choice (risk), on goes game of choice (risk), off goes the firewall which interferes with game of choice (risk). And so on. Since the mid 1980's employees have taken ownership of company assets while the risk is still owned by the employer. The cost of non-compliance and of losing customer data is rapidly approaching (if not already surpassing) the cost of losing employees to strict "mobile computing" policies. Just an opinion, no empirical evidence.
  • Probably takes about 5 minutes to load your desktop, even more when the internet is 'bussy'. This comment is given out of ignorance of where thin clients and networks are today. At Sun, we have empirical evidence to the contrary. Many use thin clients from home successfully. At Sun, we've found that using thin clients to access a (logically) centralized architecture is faster than transferring documents back & forth between the data center, office and laptop./LI>


The only thing holding me back is access from Starbucks, and this is the problem. It seems as if something is always holding somebody back. If thin clients are going to happen, IMHO it'll be niche by niche until the market starts dealing with thin clients as the rule instead of the exception.

Comments:

Truth is that Sun has been doing very little into pushing this idea. I really can't believe that, if enough ISPs were approached, not one of those would have recognize the advantages of a SunRay program (to complement the idea of a virtual office). Now, most ISPs are considering migrating their ADSL lines to another DSL technology (this time with Higher upstream bandwidths and, they will need services to drive adoption. A carefull planned scenario would be bought by several of them, I'm sure. Sales people don't have time to waste in ideas they don't buy and, no one is doing Demos and Proof of concepts inhouse for the sales people to see them. Shame is that Sun already has such a POC in place, now, you just have to documented it and go out and sell it.

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 12, 2006 at 11:08 PM PST #

Jaime, both you and James have brought up that Sun's is doing very little to push the idea. I don't disagree with either of you. Sun is putting its money and focus in other places right now. CAPS & storage, for example, are lower hanging fruit (strong customer demand) at the moment. Our "vision" investment is the Sun Grid. At some point I hope Sun Rays will percolate to the top.

In the mean time, I'm just throwing out my thoughts on the subject. Just because Sun Rays haven't percolated to the top doesn't mean I should take my eye off the ball :) I'm patient. The industry will figure it out sooner or later :)

Posted by John Clingan on March 12, 2006 at 11:57 PM PST #

If we worked here in Greece with Thin-Clients, then we would have sticked to windows looooooong ago and would have forgotten UNIX. I work on Linux and make development on my Linux laptop and have a 5% of the time useful windows box here. And yes I push the others to the addiction of UNIX. I disagree (not completely) with the idea of replacing everything in a corporate environment with thin-clients. It is too dangerous. I think thin-clients would be a good complement to other products. For example in a banking system, thin clients would be good as an idea for uniform access to resources. SUN would better start making low cost sparc desktops/laptops than putting/advertising thin-clients all over since their lack is that keep a lot of people to Solaris. A thin-client would be great at home where I have a linux desktop at the living room and would like to connect from my bedroom.

Posted by Vasileios Anagnostopoulos on March 13, 2006 at 12:16 AM PST #

Vasileios, can you please expand on your thought of why replacing thick clients with thin clients in a corporation is too dangerous?

Posted by John Clingan on March 13, 2006 at 12:28 AM PST #

Strangely, not only i don't agree with Vasileios but I think exactly the oposite. Computers in most enterprises are already replaced by "Network Computers". Corporations take their PCs, install windows server whatever and start making policies to lock access to the Hard Drive, lock access to the USB ports, lock changes to the screen saver, etc, etc. They end up with the most expensive NC in the world who's already useless if you don't have a network access (like when in a Network outage). In my house, a computer still serves a purpose, even when my operator is down. Also, about the cost of SPARC based systems keeping people out of Solaris, kind of reminds me of Solaris X86. finaly, John, about priorities, of course that managing is defining priorities and, even if I would love Sun to push it's SunRay agenda (since they really are one of the best inventions in I.T. ) I can understand it's reasoning. What I don't understand is how come you don't hammer with all your strengh everytime some analyst says Sun should fire more people, you're already losing business because you can't address all the fields where you excel (yes, yes, that is another story but one that I never get tired of hiting)

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 13, 2006 at 01:03 AM PST #

Hi , and thanks for commenting on my viewpoint.I do not believe in replacing but complementing. For a bank, it is good to have thin-clients or here in Greece thin-clients are good and beneficial for the tax-office. But if we have thin-clients in a software development company and strict regulations, how could a developer port his application on some other operating system when the company disables storing to external media? How one could prove that he works a lot of hours in a project, or keep his innovation for some bonus when his work is easily controlled and exploited by others? Maybe the scenario is a bit excessive for a US citizen, but things do not work this way here in Greece. Using a thin-client in a corporate environment is very risky. Have you heard the latest espionage case here in Greece? Let me inform the rest of the world, maybe light is not so fast in today cables... A month ago it was revealed that a technical manager in Vodafone here in Greece commited suicide last year "Tsalikidis is his name" because it was revealed that some curious software by Ericson traced calls of the Prime Minister,ambassadors, officers in the Ministry of Defence and a lot of CEOs in big commercial organizations. Even a employee in the US embassy (NO IT IS NOT CIA). As it is customary here in Greece after a year the Prime Minister remembered to start searching the case , after precious time was lost. And as it is very common also in Greece, Vodafone tried to accuse the dead manager that he had organized everything. However searching in his notebook and his emails things turned out that he wanted to notify the Ministry of Defence about it and he was under a lot of pressure because "He did not want to be accused of espionage". He was going to get married a month later. If thin-clients were used nobody would have noticed that he was innocent. The case is still under inspetion and the CEO of Vodafone Greece "Koronias is his name" got a bonus for telling that Ericsson and Tsalikidis are responsible!!! (Ericsson says that they did not install the software) What if you were in Tsalikidis shoes with a Sun-Ray erasing all the data proving you innocence? Thanks Vasileios Anagnostopoulos. PS0 there is strong indication that he did not commit suicide. Please search about this gruesome story. PS1 I am very sad for these things, happening in my country. Thin client actually is a matter of control and yes there are places where it is very-very good. But be very cautious my friend. PS2 I think, things would be more safe if Vodafone ran Solaris rather than Winblows. However the installation of this software was done in Vodafone, but with Solaris things would be more clear. PS3 A thin client would be good at home connecting to MY computer. PS4 SPARC for the masses.

Posted by Vasileios Anagnostopoulos on March 13, 2006 at 01:36 AM PST #

Knowledge is power. The story !!! http://www.athensnews.gr/athweb/nathens.prnt_article?e=C&f=&t=01&m=A02&aa=1 http://news.ert.gr/en/newsDetails.asp?ID=15147 http://news.ert.gr/en/newsDetails.asp?ID=15011 http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100004_09/02/2006_66193 http://www.ekathimerini.com/4dcgi/_w_articles_politics_100010_10/02/2006_66242

Posted by Vasileios Anagnostopoulos on March 13, 2006 at 01:41 AM PST #

Vasileios, while I agree that not every scenario will be a good one for a NC, today's deployments already give the administrator full control over the machines inside the corporation.
In a modern network deployment, the administrator already can read, delete or modify anything inside your machine. Your question may hold with someone that as root (or administrator) in it's local machine but, most people do not.
As a rule of thumb, if one uses a Notebook, that someone needs a computer even when he is offline so, a SunRay wouldn't suite him. In any case, don't mistake a SunRay environment as a diminished security environment

Posted by Jaime Cardoso on March 13, 2006 at 01:50 AM PST #

Vasileios, the example you give (IMHO) is an edge case. I don't think IT departments can design for edge cases like this. In the thin client example you gave, investigators could have gone through nightly backups and offsite archives to find what they needed. It can be argued the backups can be deleted, but then the company doing so becomes even more involved as does the investigation.

Agreeing with Jaime: In addition, thin clients are not appropriate for applications such as those requiring high video bandwidth (video editing, mechanical engineering, etc). On the other side, I would like to see thin mobile rich clients replace laptops. The infrastructure isn't quite there to deal with that yet.

Posted by John Clingan on March 13, 2006 at 02:10 AM PST #

Hmm, the Tadpole Comet doesn't work from Starbucks?

Posted by Bnerd on March 13, 2006 at 02:16 AM PST #

Bnerd, probably not. At Starbucks you have to have a browser up-and-running to get your mac address registered through a login page to enable the session. For a comet to get a web browser, you need a connection to your sun ray server. Chicken & egg.

Posted by John Clingan on March 13, 2006 at 02:27 AM PST #

Thin-client computing makes sense wherever there is ubiquitous availability of broadband, such as in North America. The biggest roadblock to adoption is the use cases that are rarest, such as working on a project while on a plane. Granted, it won't be too many more years until broadband access is readily (and affordably) available in the friendly skies as well, but today, this is a hurdle which many biz execs will make the infrastructure folks jump over. If we could modify a laptop with software to take on the role of a SunRay when broadband was available, that would give it the ability to negotiate with WiFi hotspots prior to calling home. This way folks could create/modify content in a local cache that could be automatically be synchronized with your hotdesk when broadband/home-base became available. How far are we away from this world?

Posted by Michael Kennedy on March 13, 2006 at 04:27 AM PST #

In the end NCs will prevail, just like the iPod of the future won't have a harddisk but a wireless adapter (unlimited storage anyone?). Most of todays enterprise desktop act like NCs. What good is a computer in an enterprise with no network? You can't access your email, run applications, access fileservers etc; ok, you can still get some work done, but the productivity drops significantly. We don't bother having an UPS under our desk, because electricity is ubiqutous and central systems take care of this, the same will happen to the desktop, there will be no need for "offline systems". So what's going on here? Why haven't Thin-clients taken off? Most enterprise apps are being converted to web apps, that means any browser can access them, they are no longer Win32 specific, even in these cases software like Sun Global Desktop can give a hand (I've been meaning to try this software out, but haven't managed to find the free time) Want to upgrade a desktop PC? buy a new one. Upgrade a SunRay? upload a new firmware, and upgrade the server(s), a shared server will have more utilization (proving to be a better investment) than idling PCs. SunRays/NCs have only proven their case in very specific scenarios, the standard solution is a commodity PC with Windows, most people don't get the picture until they've used a SunRay.

Posted by Alex Goncalves on March 13, 2006 at 07:32 PM PST #

In the end NCs will prevail, just like the iPod of the future won't have a harddisk but a wireless adapter (unlimited storage anyone?). Most of todays enterprise desktop act like NCs. What good is a computer in an enterprise with no network? You can't access your email, run applications, access fileservers etc; ok, you can still get some work done, but the productivity drops significantly. We don't bother having an UPS under our desk, because electricity is ubiqutous and central systems take care of this, the same will happen to the desktop, there will be no need for "offline systems". So what's going on here? Why haven't Thin-clients taken off? Most enterprise apps are being converted to web apps, that means any browser can access them, they are no longer Win32 specific, even in these cases software like Sun Global Desktop can give a hand (I've been meaning to try this software out, but haven't managed to find the free time) Want to upgrade a desktop PC? buy a new one. Upgrade a SunRay? upload a new firmware, and upgrade the server(s), a shared server will have more utilization (proving to be a better investment) than idling PCs. SunRays/NCs have only proven their case in very specific scenarios, the standard solution is a commodity PC with Windows, most people don't get the picture until they've used a SunRay.

Posted by Alex Goncalves on March 13, 2006 at 07:32 PM PST #

In the end NCs will prevail, just like the iPod of the future won't have a harddisk but a wireless adapter (unlimited storage anyone?). Most of todays enterprise desktop act like NCs. What good is a computer in an enterprise with no network? You can't access your email, run applications, access fileservers etc; ok, you can still get some work done, but the productivity drops significantly. We don't bother having an UPS under our desk, because electricity is ubiqutous and central systems take care of this, the same will happen to the desktop, there will be no need for "offline systems". So what's going on here? Why haven't Thin-clients taken off? Most enterprise apps are being converted to web apps, that means any browser can access them, they are no longer Win32 specific, even in these cases software like Sun Global Desktop can give a hand (I've been meaning to try this software out, but haven't managed to find the free time) Want to upgrade a desktop PC? buy a new one. Upgrade a SunRay? upload a new firmware, and upgrade the server(s), a shared server will have more utilization (proving to be a better investment) than idling PCs. SunRays/NCs have only proven their case in very specific scenarios, the standard solution is a commodity PC with Windows, most people don't get the picture until they've used a SunRay.

Posted by Alex Goncalves on March 13, 2006 at 07:33 PM PST #

One way to work around this chicken-egg-starbucks problem, could be e.g. using an external UMTS Modem (something like http://www.ipwireless.com/solutions/spec_34_ext_modem.html) that connects through the ethernet port to a Tadpole SunRay Client. At least in Europe, UMTS is available almost everywhere. If I had some spare money and time, I would be glad to test drive a configuration like this. Technically, network latency needs to be observed. Bandwith and data volume again, are a question of money. This would be the ultimate iPodRay solution of my dreams. :-)

Posted by mika borner on March 13, 2006 at 08:15 PM PST #

Thin clients will be delayed for a long time for non-corporate uses until the privacy issues are sorted out first.

Posted by Amit Kulkarni on March 15, 2006 at 09:39 AM PST #

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