Saturday Jan 31, 2009

Lose your laptop and not worry about data on it !

Rangers lost to Boston Bruins on Saturday night.  I just can't stop wishing for '94 all over again...

As I travel around the world I am constantly asked by customers about our strategy for VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure). While the VDI market itself is relatively young (albeit growing very rapidly as various technologies are establishing an edge for themselves in different aspects of VDI), a key element of the entire picture is not just data locality (which is largely a function of ever-expanding bandwidth) but the means to service access itself.  That is to say that the user of the desktop is now being more and more challenged to essentially be decoupled from the actual personal computing device and, instead, be associated with the application execution environment - ala "The Desktop".  Assumptions of data security/integrity and device access being postulates, the ever-growing need for workers to be mobile - mixed with the notion that "thin is in" to reduce cost by driving lower power consumption and reduce software operation/licensing costs - has many financial institutions investigating various alternatives. This trend is more noticeable now, as many of these companies are struggling to deal with the global economic downturn that has left many of the weaker financial players either on the sidelines or, in a better case, - acquired by stronger financial entities. This is happening now, at a time when security, operational and compliance demands are at extremely high levels. Mergers and acquisitions are a natural outcome in times like these and as financial services firms merge - newly acquired employees will need to access back-office applications from current office locations in order to maintain employee productivity across all parts of the organisation. The need to onboard newly acquired employees securely and efficiently, to provide them access to back-office applications reliably and productively, without having to undergo a costly cross organizational network integration, has never been a higher priority for the financial services market segment. 

Now, if you've been around the industry for a few years, you've probably heard a thing or two about Sun's contributions to this space - how Sun's motto that "The Network Is The Computer" actually gets translated to something meaningful for "The Desktop". Sun's innovations in this space go way back at least 10 years ago - when the research and development work of Sun Lab's engineers had culminated in a first product release of the Sun Ray unit (see: for a quick history tidbit).  One of the crucial elements of this products design is the Appliance Link Protocol (ALP) - that is responsible for the best in-class user experience - particularly demonstrateable across wide area networks (where the user's physical location is quite a distance away from where the user's desktop might be) - and the levels of patience are directly proportional to network latencies of the day.

The Sun Ray device is ultra-thin (it doesn't have an operating system and is completely stateless) - its operating as a display engine for all of the data processing that happens in the data centre. The actual bits that get sent from the data centre to the device are compressable and yield a very amenable and competitive user experience especially in  high network latency environments.  Having a Sun Ray device on your office desktop or at home does not solve today's mobility dilemma. While it is true that Sun - as well as a growing list of other companies are - is offering some of their employees a "Sun Ray at Home" program, the moment you have to travel on a train, on a plain, on a bus - is when you wish you had your "desktop" with you.  And while iPhone can deliver email and let you look at you calendar, .pdf's and spreadsheets, its just not your "desktop". So - what do you do? 

Most of us have a laptop - and while we are asked not to keep company sensitive data on our laptops - how many of us outthere really heed such advice ? How, then, do we access our applications and associated data that is managed centrally for us? We run a local OS and access that data remotely. Now what would happen if the laptop got lost or stolen? Simple - the data that we had on the laptop's hard disk is now in the hands of someone who will likely go prowling through it. Is that what we want? Ummm, no.

So, what do we do? "Elementary my dear Watson" - we move to offer an access layer on the laptop that connects you to the backend.  Then, with a broadband card available for $0 with a 2-year contract from Cingular (for example),  you access your data.  This isn't news - Citrix have done this sort of thing already.  There's a price tag associated with that, of course - and depending on where you're coming from and what you're happy to settle for this may be exactly what you're after.  But if you have a Sun Ray environment deployed what would really be interesting is to run a piece of software that gives you EXACTLY the same look and feel as if you were connecting from a Sun Ray device.  To give you that enhanced level of crossover, mobility and device indepdendence. The ability to maximize the ROI of the existing PC laptop/desktop gear that you'd invested in and have plenty of - and as you look to evaluate where Sun Ray can be deployed in your organisation, your users realise that all of a sudden they can connect and RESUME  their  session at a point EXACTLY where they'd left it the day prior - when they'd left the office for that important client meeting just hours prior.

Oh, and when they're back at the office - just have them insert the personalized secure smart card into the Sun Ray, authenticate, and resume the session EXACTLY where it'd been left off while accessing it on the laptop with a 3G modem in the airport! The increased productivity and cost savings presented by an opportunity to decrease desktop management challenges (and associated licensing costs) is only the beginning.

Sound cool? You bet it FEELS cool, too!

(Oh, maaan, I didn't even mention ZFS and solid-state disks in this context!)

Monday Nov 03, 2008

Sun Ray in FS

In my new role at Sun, I've started to shift my focus toward the desktop end of the datacenter spectrum. Very often I get asked the question of who is using Sun's thin client/desktop appliance technology, Sun Ray, in Financial Services. So how do Sun Ray and Sun's VDI offerings apply to Banking, Trader's desktop, Branch modernization aspects of the financial services industry?

Here are a few public successes stories particularly around FSI.

1)Bank Improves Customer Service using Sun Ray Technology. Sparkasse Haslach-Zell is a savings bank headquartered in Zell,
Germany. The bank has 11 branch offices, employs 230 people and manages EUR 900 million. Details:
2) Netsol/Chelsea Financial Services: Sun Ray Desktop Solution Success Story. Details:
3) Savings and Credit Bank Kuwait. Kuwaiti Bank Gains a Scalable Architecture with High Availability and Efficient, Centralized Desktop Management. Details:
4) World's oldest financial services institution, in Italy, chooses Sun Ray. Details:
5) Reuters use of Sun Ray and Secure Global Desktop in China. Details: and

Additionally of interest should be the following:
Toronto's Center of Excellence, joint work with Sun's partner - Scalar Decisions - highlighting Sun Ray/SGD technology for next-generation trading systems. Details:

Sun Ray is not a new technology. It has been evolving over the last 10 years and arguably first appeared way ahead of its time in the early mid-90's. It has been featured in the financial services/trader press specifically:

And of course we have a number of financial institutions that are not comfortable being public about what they're doing. If the latest mergers and acquisitions activities in the financial services industry are of any indication into activities that happen as crucial business and IT components (datacenters, desktops, employee integration and onboarding, mobility) are undertaken, rest assured that the big names in the industry are doing quite a bit. That should read: "Quite A Bit" actually. And all for a number of good reasons:

1) Network performance vs. the competition, particularly around WAN deployments (think: Singapore to London to New York). A number of banks have done (some are doing) their own testing to see for themselves. Yes, the kind that involves serious WAN latency simulators (Shunra comes to mind). We would love to help you with yours.

2) Cost [not just acquisition but ongoing large user base management]: the per user cost for a desktop client is much less then a PC. It has a very very very very small firmware footprint, essentially NO OS running, meaning that it doesn't have to be managed for updates against viruses/malware/anything. And yes, it operates very well with your favorite Operating system and delivers awesome access to applications (Windows, Solaris, Linux, etc.). "Zero-administration" is what my next Sun t-shirt ought to say.

3) Multimedia enhancements - in cases of VDI integration, quite a bit of work has already been done using VMware's and Sun's brokering technologies to deliver access to RDP sessions - and more is in the works! There are of course a number of non-financial use cases (Verizon, Time Warner) that, although aren't part of the financial services umbrella, do resonate with the types of business units that banks have been eyeing dekstop appliances for (customer-facing counters [read: branch tellers], call centers [read: customer service agents]). Been to swap or upgrade your cable/modem service recently? At Sun, of course, we've been doing it for years, saving millions in infrastructure & maintenance (power, cooling) costs.

And, if you're ever in Singapore, please do stop by Sun's office at 1 Magazine Road for a peek at a local "Bank on Sun" showcase, featuring Sun Ray's integration with many branch-focused input devices.

Don't turn a blind eye and don't judge Sun by where we were 6-7 years ago. Instead, judge us by what we've got up our sleeve now ;-)

More soon!


Isaac Rozenfeld has been a Principal Product Manager for Oracle Solaris; responsibilities have included bettering the portfolio of networking and installation technologies - all with a focus on easing application deployments

You can follow Isaac on Twitter @izfromsun


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