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Sun Microsystems

Sun introduces the "Sun Ray" 190

Doofuswrote to us about Sun's release of their newest effort to knock the PC off the corporate desktop. The Sun Ray is essentially "a juiced-up monitor", and is a thin-client solution. Cost is 10$ per month for 5 years, or 30$ per month for a more powerful client. Not much technical details in the article, but we'll update with more links as these appear.Update: 09/08 01:15 by H :Thanks to Paul Tomblin for a huge PDF file with the tech specs.
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Sun introduces the "Sun Ray"

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  • They keep pushing their ideas about computing perhaps for selfish reasons, but the same can be said of any company.

    The problem is that Sun's ideas make ALOT more sense than Micros~1's. PC networks are an anarchic mess to deal with; the idea is wrongheaded from top to bottom and I really don't think there is anything defensible about it other than "everyone else does it". We have better technologies now; the pc network is obsolete.

    The reason PC's are so "successful" in the corporate market place is that there is a need for homogeneity (people need to communicate) - the corporate infrastructure selling mainframes wasn't interested. PC's were that path of least resistance - if everyone uses Micros~1 everyone can communicate. Well, Micros~1 has been abusing this power in a hideous fashion, and people are just tired of it.

  • by First Person ( 51018 ) on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @12:43AM (#1696300)

    It's really funny that after years of arguing the rising power of personal computers signals the death of mainframes, I'm now on the other side.

    Since the early 1980's, the processor power of PCs has increased by a factor of almost 4000 and the strorage space by about the same amount. Where are the extra CPU cycles going? According to my NT task manager, 97% goes to the idle process! In a large organization, where does all the storage space go? Simple, hundreds of identical copies of the same applications such as Microsoft Office.

    To understand why centralized computing resources like the SunRay have a chance, you must understand Total Cost of Ownership. In an enterprise environment, the cost of a network of computers is a combination of the price of the machines and software and the price of maintenence including factors such as software & hardware updates, periodic backups, and network administration. The upfront costs are dwarfed by the ongoing costs of support. The SunRay is directly targeted at reducing these costs.

    My views of this topic have changed primarily because of the rapid bandwidth growth and improved stability of corporate networks. As 100kb/s and, in some cases, 1Gb/s connections proliferate, the differences between running an application locally and across the network diminish. But to the administrators, backing up 3 large machines is far easier than several hundred small ones.

  • I think we see that the majority of commercial applications are moving away from the client server relationship to an ultra-thin client design (e.g. read web-enables). The $10 a month is a leasing price. The lease price on this machines is actually quite inexpensive. One needs to factor the tax-advantages that leasing provides (e.g. computer expenditures are automatically deducted at the current year). This is a looparound current tax laws. Desktop support is quite expensive. It requires the stocking of spare parts (hard-drives, monitors, blah, blah). I expect that this the interface for such a network will be open-standard, open-architecture. This would enable pushing applications back to server (where they belong, in my estimates) Anonymous Coward (thank you very much)
  • If it's so darn cheap to make, why are they charging a monthly usage fee? If you ask me, I'd rather just buy the darn thing outright then have to do pay 10 bucks a month for the privlige. After all the only upgrading I'll be doing is on the thin client server and not the unit. Good idea, bad pricing scheme if you ask me.
  • Actually, its not just straw man you've employed here. For example, mixing apples and oranges --

    > 1) Java. Well, just print "hello" in Java:
    > ... static void public main(argv[], ... and so on ...
    > 2) Thin Clients.

    I'm going to stop you right there. On one hand, I could simply say printf ("hello\n"); and be done with it. On the other hand, I could point out that Java is one of many indirect methods that can be used to interract with an X terminal. Even a clever one like this.

    > Now someone has to configure all the security,
    > even though there's only one user (who's only
    > going the do a little test and then move on).
    > I need to create user ids/home dirs/user groups.

    Horrific, isn't it? Now imagine setting up a *PC*. There are scripts for creating users in UNIX. Get one set right, you've got them all set right.

    Actually, Sun's got me sold on this. I'm going to order a handful of the boxes and pass them out to our database group. They'll eat them up, and I won't have to worry about what they're doing with their registry. Now that we've gone to a POP mail solution, I'm willing to bet a few PCs will disappear.

    The off-topic nature of the rest of your message precludes me from responding.
  • ..And another thing, they should make a version compatible with NT Terminal Server. It would make my life a lot easier right now.
  • Yeah, X-Terminal are great.

    In our corporate environment we have 3 Terminal Servers with Citrix Metaframe installed on them. Damn things crash all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sun terminals will support ICA, RDP as well as XDMCP protocols, or at least that these will be options when you purchase the equipment.

    Does anyone know how these things boot up? Do they boot from ROM or from TFTP?

    Another point, I can't think of anyone who bought Sun equipment to save money - £200 for a keyboard, ouch!!! (I am lead to believe that Sun resellers get considerable discounts, however)
  • Contrary to many of the comments I've already seen here, I like the approach. I've seen an office set up with "thin clients" - basically a normal PC with lots of RAM, but no local disk drives. They were running everything under Linux (both client and server side), including the Applixware word processing software and Netscape for email. They aren't for everyone, but they certainly work well in a small office.

    That's not to say that this particular model will spell the death knell of Microsoft. It sounds like these are closed boxes with a lot of custom hardware (i.e., no upgrades unless you pay Sun big $$$), though I could be wrong. And, they are not cheap! $9.99/month doesn't sound like a lot, but it adds up to something like $600 over the long term. The boxes I was working with were in the $300 range, with the only custom part being the boot-ROM added into the network cards to get the systems to boot with no local disk drives.

  • Everywhere I have worked, the user data is stored on the server and it's done for a reason. The server is much much more reliable than your workstation (Well...) and is backed up on a regular schedule.

    Would you rather rely on a 2 year old IDE drive that came with the computer, or the redundant backed-up drives on the server.
  • Exactly!

    I've been hired to maintain PC's in a University. Entire rooms of desktops on which students do as they like. The next day, nothing is the same as yesterday. These situations a nightmare for administrators, but also for the next person who wants to use the PC.

    There's only one room equipped with X-terms and that's the only room I've never had to visit.

    Cutting down on the PC's would make my job useless and free funds for more usefull things...

  • by Brandon Hume ( 73471 ) on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @12:53AM (#1696316) Homepage
    1.Nobody needs dumb terminals in today's
    workplace environment. Real computers are
    necessary, not slick looking terminals.

    OK, why? That's an awfully general statement,
    with absolutely nothing backing it up.

    2.A five year commitment is too long a
    technology commitment in today's marketplace.

    Not when only barely functionality is on the
    desktop. Do you constantly upgrade your monitor?
    With thin clients, you upgrade the SERVER. So
    long as the client has enough colors, high enough
    resolution, and doesn't break, they'll last for
    YEARS. The hundreds of PCs you upgrade every two
    years for $1k apiece is that much money you sink
    into the server. And ~$100000 will buy one hell
    of a server.

    3.This won't integrate very well with a
    Windows-centric economy.

    Well then, I guess we should all nuke our Unix
    partitions and go to Windows then, if there's no
    point in trying.

    4.It doesn't just involve buying a thin client.
    It also involves buying the server, the software,
    the administrators to configure it all and the
    technicians to train the masses

    Umm... the cost savings from buying hundreds of
    PCs buys you the server. You'd need to buy the
    software ANYWAY, whether its hundreds of single
    user licenses or one network group license. If
    you don't hire an idiot, you only need ONE admin
    for the server, and the whole POINT of these
    devices is that you turn them on and go. A person
    who needs training to use a monitor or telephone
    shouldn't be allowed near either.

    I think the problem is you're stilling thinking
    small... just you, sitting at a PC. These devices
    were made for groups of hundreds of people, a
    level where one independent machine per person is
    a nightmare... where you DO need dozens of techs
    and administrators and constant upgrading.

    Brandon Hume
    hume -> BOFH.Halifax.NS.Ca, http://WWW.BOFH.Halifax.NS.Ca/
  • Try Winframe over X over a 14.4 :-)

    It launched... my 30 minute trial with the X software expired before anything more than a window was drawn.

  • ``We believe (JavaStation) was basically the right approach, but used some of the wrong technology. We've learned that users don't want to just use Java,'' Loiacono said.

  • Well, for one thing this is attractive to corporate CFOs.

    While it would appear to most people that you're paying more for these devices than something like an e-machine, if you factor in the time value of money these boxes turn out to be pretty cheap. After five years, you'd have shelled out $600 for this box. If you're comparing this to the cost of a $600 computer, consider that you can take the initial difference in cash outlay ($590), park it in a safe investment that yields about ten percent annually, and have almost a thousand dollars in the kitty and the end of five years. To be financially equivalent over that time frame, a PC would have to cost about $375. CFOs are good at this kind of calculation, I've even known an exceptional few who could carry out this kind of calculation in their head. It's even better, because if this device is still operational at, say, three years out, it will likely have _some_ utility, whereas the PC is guaranteed to be nearly useless. Naturally, you have to also include the costs of servers and network infrastructure, but this is more than offset by centralizing support costs in many environments.

    My main beef is that the lease period is too long. Five years is an eternity in technology; if the lease were three years and the monthly fee a little higher, say 12 or 13 dollars, the financial decision would be similar but the long term technical uncertainties less.
  • by Enry ( 630 ) <enry@wayga.QUOTEnet minus punct> on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @12:59AM (#1696320) Journal
    Nobody needs dumb terminals in today's workplace environment. Real computers are necessary, not slick looking terminals.

    Uh huh. I could tell you how many accountants here that write excel spreadsheets all day have PIIIs on their desk. They're not all that complicated spreadsheets either.

    Let's be realistic here, who really needs a PC on their desk:

    • Developers - Most likely, but they may be writing code for something other than the platform they're using now (i.e. using a windows box as a telnet window to a sun).
    • HW engineers - Okay, so they'll be doing CAD or other layout stuff. Rather have the CPU local.
    • MIS - Need something in case the sky falls.
    • Sales - Nope. They just fill the orders.
    • Accounting - Nope. I already covered that.
    • Customer Support - Nope.
    • Shipping/mfg - Heh. Most in my company are still using 3270 terminals hooked into an AS/400.

    Now, which will be more expensive in the long run? You have a $10/mo/person thin client, plus the $10k for a beefy server. Or you have the endless upgrades of $2k/person/year plus the $10k for a beefy server plus the cost of moving machines around, fixing broken hardware, etc.

  • Thin Clients are, fundamentally, a return to dumb clients, which I have always thought were appropriate in business settings. Dumb terminal, dumb user, blah blah blah

  • The point I'm trying to make here is that as technology continues it's drive into the mainstream, users will become more savvy and will demand more from their computing environments.

    I disagree. Of course PC's aren't going away completely. Sun Rays *don't* do everything a real PC does. It wasn't designed too.

    There'll be many people who need a real PC. Engineer's, Artists, others. But there'll be plenty of positions where a thin client suits the need exactly.

    Answer these questions. How will the users demand more from their computing environments. And how is the mainframe/terminal paradigm by and far unflexible from a user's perspective? The following examples I think are excellent uses for the Sun Ray. People in these positions will find a simple device less intimidating and easier to work with then a "real" PC.

    • A secretary who just reads email and does word processing

    • An executive who just uses a PC to read e-mail and Pointcast
      Data entry people who use one application to inpput data

    That was just a few out of the many users who will find a thin client be the most flexible, and empowering. There are many more area where the Sun Ray will provide the best answer.

  • I'm not sure whether this is the right strategy to take; it's been at least three years since the populace were luddist, technophobic, ignorant masses. Today, the internet is the thing to be on, and to get there you'll need a computer. And what does 'book-sized' mean?
  • Nobody needs dumb terminals in today's workplace environment. Real computers are necessary, not slick looking terminals.

    The server IS the "real computer," and real software runs on it. Who cares if you're close enough to hear the fans going?

    A five year commitment is too long a technology commitment in today's marketplace. Computer needs change on the order of months, not years.

    This argument is actually FOR this product. When you use terminals, all you need to upgrade is the server! Put in a new UltraMegaPowerSparc, and the entire workplace is upgraded.

    This won't integrate very well with a Windows-centric economy.

    If you mean a Windows-centric workplace, then you're right. But a Windows-centric workplace probably won't even consider buying this product.

    It doesn't just involve buying a thin client. It also involves buying the server, the software, the administrators to configure it all and the technicians to train the masses

    It seems to me that there actually should be LESS training involved, since these terminals provide access only to applications. The user experience is simpler.
  • by robbieduncan ( 87240 ) on Tuesday September 07, 1999 @11:41PM (#1696327) Homepage

    The artical implies that these devices are aimed at corporate customers, who will be attempting to reduce costs. This device is going to cost them $600 over five years which, although cheaper than a PC, is still a considerable investment. This does not have 50% of the functionality of a PC, yet costs more then half as much.

    The other big problem I see is that coperates tend to like runnning their own custom software packages, and customising the standard ones. IS Sun going to allow these packages to be uploaded to its own execution servers (and provide the necessaryt security), or is it intending that corporates buy their own servers. If the latter is the case then the total cost is not going to be far short of a PC anyway.

  • And the mainframe/terminal paradigm is by and far unflexible from a user's perspective.

    excuse me? First, we're talking server farm, not mainframe- no single point of failure, hardware dedicated to specific tasks, etc.

    with that out of the way, let's look at flexibility. With a client/server paradigm, I can be at any desk in the building and be at my desktop. This would be very, very, nice.

    If bob's machine fails, you place a new NC on his desk, and bing, he's back where he was. Have you ever had your bosses hard drive fail spactacularly?

    If I need to add another desk, it's another $10 bucks upfront, plug it in, give 'em a card, and forget about it. Try doing the same thing with a PC. The same thing goes in reverse- when somebody leaves, it's no big deal to put someone else there.

    what workplace flexibility do you get from having a dedicated PC?

  • I think the basic idea behind thin clients should bring back the "good old days" of dumb terminals.
    By good old days, I mean the days when you could walk up to any terminal in the office, log in, and everything would be exactly the same, because you are in your server account. The days when a sysadmin could install something once, and it took effect everywhere.
    This should be done again with GUIs. The challenges are that graphics take more processing and bandwidth.

    Someone needs to make a thin client that has all the computer parts except any kind of disk drive or other moving parts. It should boot off the network, and to run anything, copy the executable from the server into RAM. Any stored data it operates on should be written to and read from the server. All processing (except big jobs) and graphics rendering should be done on the client. That would both simplify things for the sysadmin and bring back the good old days. It would also operate very fast.
  • I wish they would have gone into a little more detail about what it includes.

    I'm assuming it's just a diskless client, and needs a big server to connect to. But then they mention running apps off the internet, so does it have a tiny OS in ROM, with a minimal browser?

    Still, $10 a month is far cheaper than any PC you can get. If this takes off, maybe there will be lots of cheap, older Suns flooding the marketplace, Suns too old to support a these Javaclients. I know I could use a Sparc10 in my basement to keep my 486's company.

  • I personally like the software and processing done at my desk. It's bad enough when the network goes down now or the internet get laggy, imagine with these things!! Now only e-mail and file sharing would be down, with these inexpensive (until you do the math) clients EVERYTHING would be down.
    No way...
  • This thing would run Java code. Doe anyone have an idea of the performance of these native Java-things? Does anyone know where embedded Java is used in other apps ?
  • For those of you not paying attention to the Sun briefing, and the technical literature on how this works, it's not a JavaStation, it's not an X-terminal, and it's not a device for the home. So get the actual information and quit comparing it to one.

    There are very distinct advantages to a system such as SunRay, and the "Hot Desk" portion is a key part of it.

    • The fact that all sessions live on a central system is the neat part. you can have a power outage knock out the entire building. The NOC, since it is on backup power, will stay alive. When power returns, so do the sessions. Users are happy. IT tech gets to go home at a sane hour, drink $BEVERAGE, and enjoy the company of their $SO. Reduced stress among your geeks is a good thing.

    • Smart card capability. You don't know how many times I've wished I could have my desktop available when elsewhere in the building. (without smartcards, you'd have to lug the actual terminal about, since the auth key is MAC-based) This is what distinguishes the SunRay from a dumb term with good graphics.

    • NOTHING FOR THE USER TO BREAK. Short of driving a semi over it or launching it off the top of the building (or otherwise physically abusing it), there's not a whole lot that can go wrong at the user end. Anyone in IT support can appreciate this. The less I have to see users who break their computers, the happier I get, and the earlier I get to go home. A relaxed and rested Manuka is a happy Manuka, much less inclined to strangle his cow-orkers.

    Many users have gotten used to their PC's, and can't quite wrap their minds around this concept of not being able to break their machine. Increased productivity alone will pay for these units, and reduced support costs are money in the bank, not to mention the reduced drain on electricity and cooling resources.

    Our particular environment has our developers using $4000 PC's and expensive X server software for NT to access a Unix box, to write code. This makes no sense. The beancounters and IT people agree. Especially since upgrading to a faster system only involves putting a bigger machine in the chilly room downstairs, not running all over the place migrating user data for weeks, whilst listening to the users complain all day long.

    I called our Sun reseller first thing this morning to see about getting some eval units.

    Additional bonus: it looks cool, and you can now get USB Sun keyboards. My PC at home can look for a Type 6 hanging off of it RSN.
  • by volsung ( 378 ) <> on Tuesday September 07, 1999 @11:51PM (#1696336)
    Sun Chief Executive ``Scott McNealy is smarter than a fox and can make all of this sound wonderful, but in fact very few corporations are going to buy this stuff,'' said David Wu, a San Francisco-based analyst for brokerage firm ABN AMRO Securities. ``Sun is a server company, period. If they want to give away software and make some cheap computers, so be it. But that doesn't change their (main) business.''
    That guy hit it on the nose. Notice how all of Sun's recent announcements are server-centric? StarPortal needs a server to run, and these "Souped-up monitors" need a server to run as well. Guess what kind of server?

    I'm actually curious to see what the resource requirements are to support a bunch of these things deployed in a company. One box per 5 clients? 25 clients? 50 clients? Is the server end a web server, or is it custom software for Solaris, etc...

    It will be interesting to see how Sun balances forcing people to buy servers (which they want to do) with integrating this technology with a business's existing servers.

  • That's why on alt.sysadmin.recovery, we have adopted the convention that when you're talking about a Piece of Shit that doesn't happen to be a Point of Sale terminal, you use the acronym FPOS. Since POS are also universally FPOS, the confusion is reduced.
  • I think you're right about this. "The size of a book" reminds me of those small black NCD xterm boxes. If these wind up being only $10/mo, you could plug them into a 15" monitor and you'll have a cheap terminal. You can also plug modems into the things... though I don't think anyone outside of sales would recommend it.

  • 1. Most people use their PC for office-like applications and internet. A dumb terminal is more than enough for this. If (and it's just a guess) Sun's server for these "Sun-rays" is just one of their usual servers, and the "terminal" are just running some kind of minimal X, it's just like logging in a unix server from a remote unix work station.
    2. A five year commitment is nothing! Training staff to use M$Word means you'll probably use M$Word for more than 5 years.
    3. True, and that's the biggest problem for Sun
    4. Big companies anyway have servers, technicians and administrators. They just want less of them and that's what Sun is offering to them. In my group, there is one sys admin for a dozen NT boxes, two multi-processor SGi servers, a dozen SGi workstations and two linux PC's. Maybe is an idiot, but he spends most of his time rebooting and re-installing the M$ NT boxes. People at the top (the decision makers) are being told this by many other people. Maybe they'll see Sun's alternative as a good one. Though I would not bet on it. These people are not always the smartest.

    Good luck to Sun!
  • >Motor vehicles, library card system, pos terminals, etc

    I realise that this is Point Of Sale, but every time I see it, I keep thinking Piece Of Shit.
    Anyone else have this Acronym Collision?
    Jeez I should send that into Jargon Watch on Wired :P

  • >Sun needs to realize that people like their PCs.
    >Whether you run Linux, Windows, MacOS, BEOS,
    >whatever. We moved away from the
    >mainframe/terminal paradigm for a reason

    Sorry, I forgot, what was the reason?

    I agree with you as far as the home market is concerned. But when it comes to corporate IT I can tell you that mainframes and thin-clients are very much alive. I personally don't like MS Windows Terminal Server, but the centralised appoach to IT facility provision is something that all medium-large companies should look at. Think of all the Windows registries that can corrupt themselves on a Workstation-Server network, now consider where you have 1 machine and Windows terminals off that 1 machine, there's only one point of corruption. X-Terminals have no moving parts.

    Of course where Microsoft Terminal Server has failed is in uptime statistics - If you are going to base all your applications on the same (cluster of) machine(s) then you need high reliability, this is something that was present with UNIX and X-Terminals, but is seriously lacking in Windows Terminal Server.

    We still use a mainframe for all our production systems as well. Our accounts systems still run on SCO and users connect to it via telnet.

    As sysadmin, the last thing you want users to do is be able to install their own software, viruses and games and so on. This just creates overhead for support staff. The last company I worked for didn't even allow floppy disk drives on their workstations.
  • We just had this happen yesterday. I've got this big 350MHz PII with 128MegRAM and 6Gig or disk space sitting on my desk, but where are all my files? Out on the network, where they can be backed up, and where they are accessible to other machines (notably my UNIX account), or served out of the ClearCase SCM server. When one of the servers go down (this whole place teeters on top of a sprawling Netware/NT/Unix pile of spagetti, so servers go down quite often), the whole place can go dead in the water. I can sort of limp along sometimes, but NT gets very flaky when it can't find things.
  • by hatless ( 8275 ) on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @01:03AM (#1696344)
    Cheap PCs are cheap up front. The thing is, the hardware cost is nothing compared to the cost of maintaining the things. Sure, a well-managed *nix workstation is easier to manage than an NT box under SMS or Tivoli, which is easier to manage than a Mac, which is easier to manage than a Win95/98 PC.

    But all of these things, with their varying hardware, their local filesystems, and in too many cases their local apps and OS, are a total money pit compared to running thin clients, whether they're pure terminals, or something with local CPU but no local disk-based apps and data, like this.

    Past NC attempts have been underpowered, and viable apps outside vertical markets have been few. But at some point, large businesses will be more than ready for the right thin-client machines.

    Besides, our own /. testosterone-fueled lust for playing with computer guts isn't shared by most people, nor will it ever be. Nor should it. Most people want nothing more than a foolproof, zero-maintenance way to run a range of general-interest apps. Sooner or later, the PC as we know it is going to become something only developers and hackers will want. Everyone else will be perfectly happy to plug away on a ROM-based box with high-speed net connectivity.

    Will Sun Ray succeed? Ehh. The odds are certainly against it. Will something like it succeed in the next couple of years? Yup.
  • Take a public library's card catalog system....
    They don't need to shell out $600 up front for each machine to access their server.

    And when you're looking at the time value of money, $10/month over 5 years is not the same as $600. Hell, if it was, I'd gladly borrow $600 now to only have to repay $600 in 5 years.
    Also, with non-profits, such as libraries, I don't think they can get the tax benefit of depreciating equipment, although I've been known to have been wrong before.

    Just because this model doesn't fit your needs, doesn't mean that it doesn't fit anyone's needs.
    This fits almost anything 'kiosk' like.
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @01:05AM (#1696346)
    I did some digging through some of Sun's internal information. It seems that the Sun Ray is a SPARC based platform. In fact, they've been doing some testing of the software on various existing platforms, including the Ultra 10 workstation. It runs CDE. It appears to be Solaris 2.6 or 7 loaded on the platform, with extra packages to make it user friendly and to give it remote administration. It does appear to be VERY network-centric. Also is somewhat java-centric. Hmmmm... looks like they've been in an active beta since May, and their bug-patch rate has tapered off in the past two weeks.

    Sun Help's Rumor Page [] contains some corona references.

  • One of our clients has a fairly large LAN, quite a few users, and only a few central databases that have to be used from every location. Fairly low- speed lines are used to connect everything together. (most common speed is 64 - 128 kbit. We use MS terminal servers now, to give the users a decent performance and a GUI.

    With this setup we have to maintain PC's, regular office servers and terminal servers. This setup also confuses the hell out of a lot of the users, as they are not able to discern between local and remote.

    I can see definitely see an application here for this technology. It would make stuff easier for both users and sysadmins.

    Message on our company Intranet:
    "You have a sticker in your private area"
  • Who would accept them anyway, would you, you power/home/personal user?

    heck yah! The idea, anyway, not Sun's implementation...

    Rocking linux box with microlinux's in almost every room? you know it!

  • It *does* work with terminal server. Just put the metaframe software on the SunRay server. Just like it says in the briefings and the docs.
  • It's called a lease. I expect that includes the server.
  • Listen, my friend, I've done projects at several large companies, and I can tell you that I'm getting paid very good money for my code.

    I don't necessarily like C++. As a matter of fact, I rather dislike the language; which doesn't detract from the fact that Java is even worse, and much so. The fact that it is "purely object-oriented" doesn't detract from this, on the contrary.

    The difference between you and me, is, that I am a coder, and you are *only* a coder.

    That's why you fail to understand the larger picture. Have you noticed who exactly out there gets to making the decisions and all the money?

    I guess you must be deeply frustrated for getting used and abused all the time, while other people are getting all the fun.

    People who are *coders only* will never achieve anything.
  • Does anyone know how these things boot up? Do they boot from ROM or from TFTP?

    The NCD X-Term I'm using boots up using TFTP but I think it also has a pcmcia slot if you want to add local storage. The newer NCDs are really nice, the one I'm using has a nice 17 inch monitor and the NCD has a telnet, and www clients builtin in the rom. It also has a jvm or something since it can run java apps!
  • We are exiting from Micro$oft Pc era and we are entering to $UN Server era.
  • 1. Real Computers are not necessary, except for what I term "Power Users", (and games)

    2. The whole point of these terminals is that they will not age, they run a protocol across the network, if the user requires higher spec. then you will either make him a power user or upgrade your main server that these boxes run off.

    3. Windows Terminal Server - Microsoft have already entered the market.

    4. WTS looks like Windows NT, so retraining is not necessary. Your point about the cost of the server is true, however, and often overlooked. The overall configuration for 1 (50 user) Terminal Server is less than the configuration for 50 users.

    Just so that this doesn't look like an advert for WTS I would like to point out that it's reliability is appalling, if you consider Thin-Client technology ask yourself whether you can use X-Windows with Linux or a BSD variant or wait until Microsoft improve it's reliability (a long wait me thinks)
  • I take 'book sized' as meaning something similar to the monorail machines...

    esentially, it's a 1.5-2" box with a portable screen, that mounts on a stand...

    Once they strip the CD-ROM, floppy, downsize the HD, though, they could conceivably be not much more than an LCD monitor, with a keyboard/mouse port on 'em.

    And I'd guess from your statement 'it's been at least three years since the populace were ... ignorant masses' that you don't work in technical support. (Or, people in Ireland aren't as brain dead as the rest of the world).

    And you don't need a computer to connect to 'the internet'. Hell, in a few months, PCS phones will do it. There are home-sized e-mail phones already. And many of us grew up on wyse terms and the like.
  • Sun has the right idea with this technology. From the standpoint of their business, it makes perfect since. Sun sells servers. Why not create an addition market for themselves? If they can pull it off, so be it.

    It also makes sense from the corporate network standpoint. Less redundancy from individual desktops, less configuration that the user can foul up from their cubicle. No, it isn't perfect. There are compatibility issues, storage issues, flexibility issues. But it's at least worth a try.

    However, I think this is one more piece of technology that will probably never make it in the real market. End users are too attached to their PCs, and when anyone tries to market a product that performs much the same things as an exisiting product (the PC), but sacrifices some degree of functionality in lieu of price or space, the new product generally fails.

    So open that closet, push aside your Beta VCR, your Newton, relocate the space you've been saving for that Mini-disc player, and toss the Sun Ray inside.

  • This doesn't appear to be another Javastation in the computing void. And users will be able to run Solaris applications. It makes complete sense from a corporate support standpoint. This is something that can be sold to big business as a real solution. Hmmmmm....
  • I'm not quite sure how this will play out, but it seems to be an overlooked factor. In terms of hardware cost, a network of independent PCs would seem cheaper to upgrade because there's such tremendous pricing pressure in that very competitive market segment. However, when you consider the human cost of upgrades, the thin-client solution starts to look pretty attractive. You can pretty much swap one server machine and everyone gets the benefit, without having to run around upgrading hundreds of differently-configured PCs. If you actually do need to upgrade the clients, that's easy too because the clients are stateless. Take the new one out of the box, switch cables, put the old one in the box...voila!

    I know there've been lots of other thin-client paradigms, from Sun's own diskless (my brother always called 'em "dickless") workstations to X terminals etc., but somehow this one reminds me of nothing quite so much as Plan 9. It's really not a bad idea. The question is whether Sun - whose track record in these areas is less than stellar - can execute the idea well.
  • I could simply say printf ("hello\n"); Where did you manage to compile that? You are simply denying the facts. Now imagine setting up a *PC*. You are denying another really crucial fact: Even the most computer-illiterate people are able to go the store, get a PC, switch it on, and start doing whatever they are able to do. Why do you think KDE and Gnome were created? Because there is a whole world out there, of people who need to crank out a letter, a quote, a few formatted tables, and are not interested in dealing with the details of setting up servers, networks, et cetera. I'm going to order a handful of the boxes and pass them out to our database group. Until your users start complaining to the boss, and point out, rightfully, that they are making all the money for your company, and that they want you off their back.
  • And no, this is not aimed at power/personal/home/soho users. Who would accept them anyway, would you, you power/home/personal user ?

    A lot of the people in the physics department where I work use NCD X-terms for their work. It's a nice solution: all your data is backed up for you, you have most of the apps you need(Latex, netscape, emacs, vi, etc.) And most importantly you have access to a really powerful cpu when you need it. A pc might be nice but I want to be on the alpha server when my apps start tossing around arrays of 10,000 double precision floating point numbers.
  • by Manuka ( 4415 )
    Wrong. you still need to admin the PC.
  • the _post_, not the quote.
  • Infoworld reports that the listed price has no monitor

  • > I wonder if the Sun Ray could work off of an open source Linux solution? Well, you could just get a diskless linux box, and run the svgalib-based VNC viewer on it. Connect to Xvnc, and you've got pretty much the same thing... :-)
  • >Even at $10/month, a company would be stupid to >commit to five years.

    I agree five years is too long, but mainly from a psychological standpoint. Actually it is not necessarily financially stupid if you run the numbers and factor in time value of money. Even if the company rips all the things out and throws them in the basement at the end of three years, and continues to pay the lease fee for two more years, it's no different from ripping out your three year old computers and throwing them in the trash. Either way you kiss your cash goodbye and have a bunch of nearly useless junk around; the difference is how _quickly_ you let go of the cash.

    A lot depends on how effectively the company can put the increased up front cash availability to use. At a 10% interest rate this is equivalent to buying a sub $400 PC; at 15% this is like buying a sub $300 PC and at 20% this is like buying a sub $250 dollar PC. Of course this is a simplistic analysis, since the real cost savings occur in management and service, but its not uncommon for companies to lease PCs simply to improve cash flow, and a $10 montly outlay to equip somebody with basic office software is pretty attractive.
  • I can understand the need for centralized network management. I myself maintain networks full of NT boxes. Although it isn't as simple as it should be, it's come a long way. Correct configuration goes a long way in this regard (I manage a farm of a few dozen NT boxes from a few thousand miles away, and havent had a problem).

    Centralized management is very nice for large deployments (I realize a few dozen boxes isn't that big of a deal), but it depends on the setting. If you have hundreds of users who aren't doing much more than glorified data entry, I'm sure the mainframe/terminal concept works well. But in the production enviorments I've worked within, it's simply not possible. Granted, most of the environments I've been involved with have been mainly development enviornments, but even the users who weren't directly related to development could not get by with a jacked up terminal.

    The point I'm trying to make here is that as technology continues it's drive into the mainstream, users will become more savvy and will demand more from their computing environments.

    Do you honestly think that a company that decides to save money by reducing IS costs will be better off than a company that empowers it's employees by putting a PC on every desk?

    Obviously, it would depend on the employees, if you have people with ability, who can use the resources of a PC (as opposed to using only the applications the network provides), it's well worth the additional cost in my opinion.

    The companies that win are the ones who hire the best people they can, and give them as much flexibility as possible to do their job. And the mainframe/terminal paradigm is by and far unflexible from a user's perspective. Although flexibility does sometimes come at the cost of sysadmin sanity. :)
  • As far as I understand the SunRay (code named Corona inside Sun) works as you would expect an Xterm to work. The difference is that Sun can now deliver the screen bits of Microsoft software to such a device kind of like PCAnywhere but one window at a time. The major tech hurdle I see which isn't addressed in any article as yet is the simple fact that Microsoft software is built with the assumption that it is running for one user on one machine. I don't know how Sun is able to install one copy of MSOffice and then allow 1000 people to use that same installation without confusing it. Further, where is that software installed? On a Sun machine running Solaris? I don't think so. It may be that you have to have an NT Server around to run the MS Software (I don't know for sure, anyone have any information on this?).

    I do know that there is no "OS" on the machine, there is no browser based GUI requirement or anything like that and it can print just fine. They learned that lesson with the JavaStation.

    IMHO this is a bad idea, but I've been wrong before,

  • It's already up on Sun's home page and gues what: you *NEED* a Sparc Solaris server to run these things . They're cute but I doubt anyone is going to tie themselfs to Sun for five years (unless they already were a Sun client) for pure aesthetic reasons ...

    I think the damn things won't even suport standard, run-of-the-mill X, since they demand authentication from a new authentication manager running on solaris....
    No, I can't spell!
    -"Run to that wall until I tell you to stop"
    (tagadum,tagadum,tagadum .... *CRUNCH*)
  • Two points here regarding the Sun Ray and Open Source:

    1] These boxes are a great way to push open-source applications to the business community. A site that is running a Sun Ray solution will easily be able to adopt OUR software. Its UNIX, folks.

    2] Hmmmm... a little more nefarious, I suppose. I wonder if the Sun Ray could work off of an open source Linux solution? :)
  • 2.A five year commitment is too long a technology commitment in today's marketplace. Computer needs change on the order of months, not years. Even at $10/month, a company would be stupid to commit to five years.

    Even at $10 / month? At 10% interest, $10 / month for 5 years has a present value of $470.65 If that includes a decent monitor, mouse, NIC, and smart card reader, it sounds like a great value to me. Of course, Sun can probably afford to sell them at no profit since you also need some number of servers and probably special proprietary software to manage serving apps to the clients...

    Bravery, Kindness, Clarity, Honesty, Compassion, Generosity

  • I run a 50-client network for a small manufacturing shop and, if something like this were cost-effective, I think it would work well in this environment. Most of the work we do is in our ERP system, which is all run off the server already. I've got about 6-10 folks who do heavy duty number crunching or other weird stuff that i'd want PCs for, but other than that, a thin client would be perfect. If(and this is a big if) we would save significant cash with this route, that would mean more clients,for example, so that each plant lead-person could keep track of their own production schedule and work orders. Local storage is wasted on most people here, IMO.

    Just my thoughts
  • Speaking unofficially:

    This is something that can be sold to big business as a real solution.

    ...and trading floors and places where user-access hardware uptime is critical will love it; if your monitor dies, whip your smartcard out of your machine, plug it into the spare system in the next cubicle, and your session moves with you in seconds.

    see [] for pictures and info.

    - alec (who works for sun but still thinks it's a neat piece of kit)

  • by Anonymous Coward
    According to The Register [], the client can be purchased for $500.
  • Here at school, they converted an NT lab to a linux lab, that NFS mounts your home dir. Users cannot screw up anything on the computer, except their own files. Beats the hell out of the old system, where people would come and ask to use the computer you're working on, because they "saved their paper in c:\temp" Any centrally managed unix system gives you most of the same advantages of this thin client, while not overloading your network with things that are better done locally.
  • I have a friend who works at Liberty Mutual. According to him, if you have a PC on your desk, and you install any software (repeat: ANY SOFTWARE) on it whatsoever, and you are caught, this is grounds for dismissal. Every PC's configuration comes from a "gold" CDROM that is maintained by IS. If a PC is found to have been "corrupted" by foreign software, it is immediately reloaded from scratch from the "gold" CD.

    Some folks have been quite impassioned in this forum about the freedom and productivity that results from having one's own PC. No doubt there are many desktops at Liberty Mutual that are running "verboten" software, and no doubt there are copies of the "gold" CD floating around that are used to reload PC's that have "gone south," and no doubt all of this activity is occurring without anyone in IS knowing about it.

    But from the *company's* standpoint, their policy is working. They don't have to run around supporting PC users (because everyone is afraid of getting caught, so all everyone ever does is reload from the "gold" CD instead of calling for help). The company believes that everything is wonderful. And the IS department believes they are in control of this wonderful imaginary world.

    All of which is not unfunny. But here's the rub: IS is in charge of all the procurement decisions. And if IS is the customer, then the SunRay sure sounds like a terrific idea, doesn't it?

    I guess I can relate this to my own experience as VP Engineering for a small technology company. One day a whole metric f**ckload of low-end Compaq PC's showed up in Marketing, Sales, and Administration. Some Compaq sales dude had sneaked in the back door and sold a bill of goods to guys who had absolutely no clue what they were buying (my personal theory as to why Compaq sales are off -- technical guys are pissed off at them for selling directly to the suits, and so as our power increases, we buy elsewhere for revenge). Well, those same dudes are buying SunRays.

    Which begs the question, of course, as to whether SunRays are good or bad. I can see arguments both ways, most of which have already been made by others.
  • These devices are specifically NOT designed to operate over high-latency communications circuits.
  • "But I believe that the added costs of hiring more adept people, giving them the tools and resources (PCs) to use their abilities will give the company as a whole a competitive edge. THIS is the correct reason for moving from a mainframe/terminal setup."

    In certain situations, yes. But at a place like say the bank or the DMV, the question is whether you need all those creative people and the freedom that their personal computers give them. Your ideal of a few creative people versus a lot of uncreative people only applies in certain working scenarios. At say, a retail store, I don't think getting rid of thirty uncreative clerks and replacing them with two creative clerks is going to improve service.

    Certain jobs are inherently non-creative ventures and in some cases, you actually want to stick restrictions on them. Thin clients are more securable than PCs, if properly managed.

    And even customization of tools doesn't write out the thin client scenario. Give the users who want special tools extra space on their disk partitions on the servers, or have them added to the application area of the disk server so everyone gets it. I use a workstation at work, but my user account comes off a server, which means that I can log into any workstation on the network and get to my account which has my .profile, .kshrc and all the other custom files that make my environment nice.

    It really comes down to the degree of customization allowed by IS with respect to user accounts, and how much the client/server setup allows customization. PCs only have the advantage that IS is limited in the amount of homogenization they can remotely enforce. If you have a well considered setup, users will have all the freedom they want or need.
  • It takes two things for this to happen, and being part of this first-hand, I think thin-clients will help:

    1) Users need to get out of the mindset that their PC is any slower than their neighbor's. The reasons that the accountants get PIIIs is because they see POs coming through for PIIIs for development, and they get jealous. A thin client may help level this playing field.
    2) MIS has to step in and say "No, you're not getting the upgrade you think you need". I never had the authority to do this. A corporate policy of using thin clients again may help in this situation (only x, y, and z departments get PCs. Everyone else gets TCs).

    I'm not saying this is a cure-all, and there are obvious holes, but it'll certinaly help.
  • Yeah, I'd pay $10/month (+ the one-time cost of good speakers, unless it has really good built-in sound) for the ability to run streaming media into my bedroom, etc, assuming that I could run the server on a Linux system or something similarly inexpensive.

    OTOH, what might it cost to put together a reliable PC-based Linux system as a comparable X-Terminal? Hmmm...
  • While I will agree that thin-clients are probably a cheaper and easier way to go for corporate computing. I do have to strongly disagree with your opinion that the average person should not have to know what's going on inside their computer.

    Just look at our highways for a perfect example of what happens when industry dumbs down technology to the point that people don't have to understand it to use it. Too many people can't so simple maintance on their own cars, and too many of those cars are now dangers to other people on the road.

    I'm not saying people are going to die because they can't work on their computer. But I would hate to see the computer industry fall into this trap of complancy. The past few years we've seen great steps forward in educating the GP about computers, how the work, and how to get the most out of them. It would be a MAJOR loss to take a step back and keep them from even seeing that they are using a computer.

  • most corporate IT departments have a five-year upgrade cycle. Which means, if they switch now, it will be five years before they reevaluate alternatives anyways
  • Hey, this has some serious implications for US:

    1] Don't overlook the obvious. These things run UNIX! The majority of open-source programming is in UNIX. This opens a clear path for the invasion of open source software into the enterprise. Yummy.

    2] I wonder how much participation that something like Linux could have here. In their presentation, they talked about presenting NT apps via a Citrix server. Perhaps it can service Linux applications as well. Hmmmmm...
  • I really believe distributived services are the way to go. Just look at the current problem with Win32 and the SMS.

    If you want everyone to who has Office 97 to have Office 2K on their machine, you need to run around to each machine or use SMS(or what ever remote admin tools). Even with SMS it still takes a lot of time to run over the entire domain and that is assuming that there are no problems(ie install may fail if a certain service pack installed).

    On the other hand in the Unix world, things tend to be highly distributed. ProE or IdeasMS are usually installed on one disk which is NFS exported to all clients. The license server serves up license keys to those who want to use the programs. If there are patches to be applied you can apply them to one install instead of hundreds.

    There are problems with a purely distributed system, but it does have promise as an alternative to huge amounts of staff to maintain machines, especially when networked systems are becoming extremely robust.
  • I'm actually curious to see what the resource requirements are to support a bunch of these things deployed in a company. One box per 5 clients? 25 clients? 50 clients?

    Look around at your average office - how many people are really using their machines, actively, solidly? Not many.

    One Sun technician I was talking to about this product (some time ago) said that empirically you can get 25 or so power users per CPU. Sun servers scale up to 72 processors. You do the math :-)

  • AFAIK, a lot (most? more?) of ATM's you use are self-contained PC's in their own right. I think I've even seen a picture someplace of a Windows blue-screen on one...

    This used to be one of OS/2's big markets... a grocery store I used to go to all the time had an ATM running OS/2, and did something funky one time and dropped to an OS/2 prompt.

  • Looking at the specifications of the SunRay terminal, I think the unit will primarily be used on systems that doesn't require complicated user interaction, things such as Point of Sale (POS) terminals.

    Unfortunately, today's desktop requirements are MUCH more sophisticated than that! They need quality word processing and spreadsheet functions, not to mention surprisingly sophisticated e-mail front ends. If you try to run such apps for the SunRay, you'd better hope you have a powerful AND fast server and also everyone is connected on 100BaseT Ethernet cabling.

    Given that Larry Ellison of Oracle has even soured on the concepts behind SunRay, I don't think it'll be a big success outside of the POS terminal niche market.
  • I am not sure who will buy it but I am guesing it will be a company that needs a lot of simple systems. You afterall do not need a 300/400/500MHz computer to type a letter or check e-mail. I remember hearing around once that some airlines for example were thinking of using Java stations or similar ideas in the hangars. This would give the mechanics access to a terminal. The system would then be connected to some server with a nice CDROM collection. This makes it easy and cheap to mantain. This would be a good use for the Sun Ray.
    A device that is easy to set up and if it brakes it can be replaced in less than 5 minutes. The user's setup on the new device will be identical to on the old one. That also is very nice.
  • Please someone correct me if I am wrong, but it seems to me that the difference is in the complexity of the hardware. X terminals run a full X server locally in their firmware. This device is just a frame buffer with a monitor, so it needs an X server running on the machine it is connected to.
    What then are the advantages/disadvantages:
    - this device has simpler hardware and therefore it can be much cheaper than an X terminal. It works like if the server had several sets of monitor/keyboard/mouse instead of just one.
    - It is simpler to set up at first than an X terminal, but on the other hand it after it is set up, XDMCP or some similar protocol can make either easy to configure
    - it takes more CPU time of the server, so you need more server power to move these devices than a stack of X terminals.

    Well as for prices of X terminals, it depends on who makes it. The HP envizex II terminals, for example can in some cases update their screen faster than the system they are connected to. Of course you have to pay for this performance gain. Other terminals are not as fast nor expensive.
  • This is back where they started. Sun pioneered the dick^H^H^H^Hdiskless workstation, after all. (I hear even the company name is an acronym for Stanford University Network, a project from which they spun out.)

    The diskless workstation was the result of an observation: Ethernet (10Mbps) is fast enough that mounting a (VERY expensive at the time) disk on a central server and accessing it over a network was about as fast as having a local disk at a machine - and with several machines it was a LOT cheaper, letting you have many more workstations of comparable capacity for the same budget.

    Their first machines had a processor, some local RAM, a screen buffer, and a network interface, but the disk controller and disk were optional. Any machine with a disk could serve it to any machine that didn't have one. All machines shared most of the file systems - so you could access your files (and your neighbors, and your shared resources) from any workstation, and there could be one copy of software for all the clients. Diskless machines put their root partition and swap space on a server, too, doing the computation and graphics rendering locally but consolidating all the mass storage centrally. You got the power of a decent machine on your desk, at a fraction of the cost. And you got better disk utilization, on larger (and thus cheaper-per-megabyte) drives.

    Thin client is the same idea, carried a step farther: The local network is now fast enough to shove bitmaps around rather than rendering them locally. So you can push the crunch back into the server room, too. Do the computation and the rendering in a suitable processor farm, and put just enough machine on each desk to handshake the network and unpack the graphics.

    But crunch is cheap enough now that, for many applications, there may not be enough saving by consolidating it for that to be a sufficient sole driving factor in the thin-client decision. So other factors (such as security, control, labor cost, and employee moralle) will probably determine whether thin-clent takes hold or withers.

  • The question implies you don't really understand what this is - there's not really any CPU or memory to use for Beowulf. Think of this more like a big server with dozens of monitors, keyboards and mice scattered around, since basically, that's all the SunRay is - another "seat" to use the computer from.

    Instead of Beowulfing together everyone's PC's, this just gives one big multiprocessor machine that they all share without having to distribute jobs over the network.
  • Hmmmmm... might even be more marketable to organizations that can't completely ween themselves away from a Windows App or two in the short term. Imagine one of these workgroup server having a bank of SunPCis (AMD K6 on a card), ready to launch a Windows App when needed. Yummy.
  • I always enjoy reading about people justifying terminals "Well, I wouldn't want one, but Susie down in accounting/Joe on the loading dock, etc,etc could use one". The thing about it is, people don't like being dependant on IS to take care of things. Thats why we had a PC revolution in the first place: people got tired of waiting for IS departments to 'get it', and went out and bought a bunch of PCs and took care of their needs themselves.

    Terminals are GREAT in the proper environment--but users don't like them. And users, ultimately, are the ones who keep IS in business.
  • We just purchased 2 Sun Rays for evaluation purposes. Our intent is to use them for classified computing on the desktop. For this purpose, these devices are ideal - no removable media whatsoever to worry about (Ok, they require flash cards that contain a "personality" - haven't had enough experience with these boxes to know what that means yet (just in yesterday)).

    To address above points:
    1. overly general. The notion of setup-and-forget is a good one, especially with the advent of NT
    2. Five years *is* a long time in this industry, but I think the functionality we've gotten by adopting a 1 or 2 year upgrade cycle doesn't justify the associated costs.
    3. Uh - sounds like it'll integrate very well, actually. That's the whole point of being able to run multiple clients.
    4. Yup, you need a server. A comparatively small outlay (~10K). Long term costs for these boxes promise to be LESS than full computers - WinNT is an administrative nightmare that already requires a cadre of trained button pushers. Assuming these deliver similar functionality as xterminals, they make a lot of sense in a large corporate environment.

  • by HalJohnson ( 86701 ) on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @02:06AM (#1696418) Homepage
    I feel this needs to be reiterated in the main thread.

    I'm reading so much about how much easier terminals/network computers/etc are to manage. And I'm not disagreeing in the least. The time and costs required to manage a bunch of PCs grows exponetially with the number of boxes on the network. It's a given.

    My problem is that everyone seems to be looking at this with a very narrow point of view. Which is also to be expected. The readers here are primarily technically proficient, intelligient people. And I'm sure that quite a few of them are full time sysadmins as well. And from their perspective, easier management and reduced cost of the network is top priority, as it should be, for the most part.

    But you need to consider the welfare of the entire company (and this message is directed at business computing, since I'm sure we can all agree that none would want to give up their home PC for just a terminal).

    If you have a company full of glorified data entry personell who don't have the ability/desire/intelligence/etc to use more than one or two applications, this works well.

    But I believe that the added costs of hiring more adept people, giving them the tools and resources (PCs) to use their abilities will give the company as a whole a competitive edge. THIS is the correct reason for moving from a mainframe/terminal setup.

    I'm sorry, lowering IS cost is meaningless if it means reducing the employees ability to do their job effectively. This of course requires the best employees possible, which is another topic altogether.

    I'd much rather have one or two intelligent people with atmospheric salaries who can creatively solve problems than 30 entry level people who require a lot of hand holding and attack problems brute force. And if it costs more to maintain the network and to give them PCs for them to do what they need to do, so be it. It's a drop in the bucket compared to what they make and what they make the company.
  • by Amphigory ( 2375 ) on Tuesday September 07, 1999 @11:57PM (#1696430) Homepage
    As I read this article, this device is basically an X-Terminal. Which just proves that X-Terminals are great devices that aren't used nearly often enough.

    I used to run a 5000+ user UNIX environment, with over 500 X-terminals. Alone. By myself. With time to spare. The durn things never broke :)

    The downside to X-terminals has been that they tend to have an up-front cost almost as high as a workstation. It could be that Sun Ray will fix this.

  • by HalJohnson ( 86701 ) on Tuesday September 07, 1999 @11:57PM (#1696431) Homepage
    I mentioned this a few stories back, in the StarOffice discussion. Sun is not flexible enough to compete in the PC market, so what do they do? Try and manipulate the market to fit their business model. It's the network computer concept that they keep trying and failing with.

    Sun needs to realize that people like their PCs. Whether you run Linux, Windows, MacOS, BEOS, whatever. We moved away from the mainframe/terminal paradigm for a reason.

    This drives Sun crazy, since it threatens their extremely high margin server business (talk about price bloat). Where do you think Sun gets all these millions to buy StarOffice and give it away free? Or put so much development money behind Java?

    Sun is robbing people for their servers. And they'll continue to do it as long as they can.
  • public class Hello {
    public static void main(String [] args) {
    System.out.println("Hello World!");

    And in C++

    int main (int argv, char **argc) {
    cout "Hello World!";

    I really don't see either as overly burdensome, and I can compile either to native code.
  • I'm wondering how long it will take before Sun (or anyone else) starts giving away 10 or so thin clients with every server. I wouldn't be against trying one of these machines, but I'm not willing to pay for something that may be of no use to me at all.

    May be Sun should have add-ons like a barcode gun or a cash drawer attached to these things to show people how they could be used. I could also see admins using these things as a way the securely administrate a server (only certain thin-clients can have admin privilages).
  • Fooey. I should have known better than to try to use angle brackets in so-called "plain old text" mode. Need this weirdly named "Extrans" mode for that I guess, where text really is text.
    1. Nobody needs dumb terminals in today's workplace environment. Real computers are necessary, not slick looking terminals.
    2. A five year commitment is too long a technology commitment in today's marketplace. Computer needs change on the order of months, not years. Even at $10/month, a company would be stupid to commit to five years.
    3. This won't integrate very well with a Windows-centric economy.
    4. It doesn't just involve buying a thin client. It also involves buying the server, the software, the administrators to configure it all and the technicians to train the masses

      I applaud Sun's noble efforts to return to the days of the mainframe and the terminal, but they concentrate on their server-side strengths and return their creative force to the Internet and away from getting people off PCs in general.
  • I think this is an accurate characterization of the relationship between IS and users. The problem is, often the perception that a user can take care of their needs themselves is wrong.

    A typical user:
    a) haha, now I don't have to be calling IS to get my machine working
    b) ooh, think I'll load this RealAudio stuff, and this version of IE, and Netscape 4.61, and Quicktime, and I like Eudora more than this Outlook stuff... (repeat ad infinitum)
    c) hmmm, why can't I open this PowerPoint presentation? And where's my mail? Why does Netscape keep crashing on me? Where's that IS number?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @02:33AM (#1696449)
    Check out the specifications page. The software page also explains a lot about how it works.

    It's like an X terminal, yes. The other thing that is better about them than X terminals is that they are significantly faster and they provide more features. By significantly faster I mean you should notice no performance degradation relative to a real workstation; basically you have to hook the things up through 100Mbit switched ethernet. But that's actually pretty cheap these days if you are doing it for lots of clients.

    Some of the really nifty features:

    • specialized support in the protocol used for streaming audio/video
    • smart card authentication
    • the X server runs on the server machine and talks to a virtual framebuffer device that you view on your terminal. so the session stays around once you log off of the SunRay and once you go to another one and pop your smart card in, your session is back, with all of your apps still running (not restarted, but still running.) It takes less than 4 seconds to restart your sessions IIRC.
    • support for local peripherals -- you can hook up USB devices to the SunRay and access them from the server as if they were hooked up to the server. Also parallel printers I believe.

    Who do they sell these things to? Power users like us? Probably not. People who have stacks of 3270s on mainframes? By the boatload. They cost no more than the 3270s do and the functionality is orders of magnitude better.

  • Sun has a serious credibility problem if it only provides a server-side solution. Especially when their biggest software initiative, Java, is really directed at displacing Windows on the desktop.

    Sun's roots are in Workstations, they still make money in Workstations and have done suprisingly well in this market. I believe you'll find that they are not losing market share there.

    This will sell well into accounts where Sun already has a strong Server presence. In completes their offerings. Now, Sun can more seriously address the whole IT infrastructure.

    Sun will try to make this a lever into new accounts where those with lots of Windows desktops have been concerned that there would be integration problems. This may be an uphill battle for Sun.

    There could be a huge growth potential here in "green screen" applications. Windows has failed to go into a whole bunch of markets (POS, Banks, ATMs, etc.) that are still dominated by green screens because the PC/Windows TCO (think maintenance) is way too high. If Sun is able to get an attractive TCO here, then the NC could finally take off. These markets are extremely conservative, so they have not been attracted by the Java/NC hype today. If Sun can deploy a lot of working NCs they might be able to better make inroads. Once they had a significant presence in these kind of applications, a lot of typical desktops could follow.

    Microsoft is trying to address the green screen market with various Windows CE initiatives. If Sun looks to be making inroads here, expect a huge investment on Microsoft's part to fight it.

    It is an intolerable situation for Sun, in the long term, for MS and/or Linux to dominate the desktop in their accounts. Ultimately, Linus is right, who controls the desktop controls the industry.

  • AFAIK, a lot (most? more?) of ATM's you use are self-contained PC's in their own right. I think I've even seen a picture someplace of a Windows blue-screen on one...
  • by gmhowell ( 26755 ) <> on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @12:06AM (#1696463) Homepage Journal

    What many of the thin client vendors (and many in the Open Source community) miss out on is that not every business is using computers to run MS Word, Excel, and IE. We're running a scheduling a business package on an Alpha Microsystems box (?) and using dumb terminals. Sadly, I can't just use VT100 emulation, as the emulation mode is called AM-65. Looked high and low a few months back, and the only terminal emulator I found is made by the SOB's [] who make the system. Yes, we are looking to replace it, but the funds to transfer the information from the old system to the new just aren't there.

    Then there is the vendor [] of our computer based medical records system. Unhelpful. Totally MS based. No chance of Open Source (we are a "development partner" and we can't even get the source. Not that there are any programmers here, but it's the thought that counts. What we do is develop templates that are then passed around to the other users without credit being given). No chance of a Linux, X (in general), Wince, Palm, or MacOS port.

    So what does that have to do with these new terminals, or any thin terminal? Quite frankly, I'd love to use them here at the office. Doctors are not the most technically savvy folks. Sure, they can use the latest laser to burn away part of your colon, but I have yet to meet one who could program their VCR (lest the MD's flame me, I've been around docs since I was born. Unless you're about 60 years old or so, I've been around more docs than you) Anyway, thin clients would be a lot easier to manage, and would give me more time to start my business from my cubicle. But the numbers don't make a damned bit of sense. For just a tiny bit more than $10/mo, I could lease a MUCH better machine (even if it's saddled with NT, which, once running, is much better than 95/98). Of course, I'll be leasing for only three years, as a five year lease for computer equipment is foolish. We've got some stuff due to be finished with the lease in about six months, and the leasing companies are hard pressed to give us a buyout, as there isn't much of a market value for 486/DX4's and Pentium 66's.

    So while thin clients are nice, the lack of supported applications is sad, the price is absurd, and it just doesn't work. Thin clients work quite well with CLI's, but until someone has a sanely priced graphical client, what's the point? Wyse and Sun have missed the boat. If they are going to make this work, they are going to have to work with vendors and developers to come up with more web enabled apps, java apps, and other tools that are not as mundane as word processors.

  • I forget who said it, but "you can lead a whore to culture, but you can't force them to read".
    I believe it was Dorothy Parker, and the quote was 'you can lead a whore to culture but you can't make her think'.
    Erudite? Smartassed? Take your pick. I know I have.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 08, 1999 @12:21AM (#1696469)
    I thought these terminals was old news, since 100 of them has just been installed in one of the "databar's" here on the Technical University of Denmark.

    They are _extremely_ dumb, not even X terminals. Instead you have a terminalserver, that runs one X server for each SunRay terminal. Then the bitmapped graphics is transfered over the network, in some compressed format, all the terminal does is send the keyboard and mouse events the other way, and put the graphics in the framebuffer. Exactly like VNC and Citrix, not something that sounds very intelligent.

    I have only used them briefly, but they actually seem very fast. Ofcourse I don't know how they stack up under heavy load. Don't expect fullscreen MPEG on them though

    Tech details: 1280x1024 @ 76 Hz

    24-bit colors

    10/100 Mbit Ethernet connection

    Composite video input

    Stereo audio out/Mono microphone in

    4 USB port

    ISSO approved smart card reader

    The setup is 100 terminals, with 50 each on a Sun250 Terminalserver (Dual USparcII, 2G ram)

    These only do the graphics, 50 X servers on each there is a HPC6500 for the CPU power with a couple of E10K to come.

    I don't know if the page describing the new setup is available from the outside but try:

    Databar update []

    Morten Olsen (not AC)

  • Unfortunately, the same technology that enables people to waste time is what they need to do real work. You can surf random sites on the web, or you can learn stuff you really need to know for your work. The same mechanism does both.

    In other words, if you can't use one of these devices to surf the web and waste time, they are profoundly useless. Somehow I have a feeling you can - no problem.


  • Which would be less than than $600, although you have to pay it up front. But give me a break, you really want to be using this thing after 5 years?

    Remember, it not $600 for a computer to replace the one you use now. Not only do you need the client hardware, you also need to server on the backend. So the client hardware really doesn't do anything but to display the desktop. In 5 years it'll do nothing but display the desktop. So it'll work just fine. The *only* reason I could see to "upgrade" it would be to have a bigger monitor. But even that's not needed. I think that 5 years is how long the hardware will last before giving out though. Okay, it'll probably last a little longer, but you'll still be replacing it with just the same device.

    All the upgrades will happen on the server. So over 5 years time instead of replacing hardware, and software at each desk, you will only need to upgrade the server, both hardware and software, as needed. But the client device will continue to do the same thing, year after year after year.

    The fact that this is just about as cheap as a real PC is just a side benefit. Really, the cost of the PC is only a fraction of the Total Cost of Ownership. You have to add in the costs of support, of keeping PC's up to date, of lost productivity time due to crashes and reboots. The Sun Ray eliminates most of these costs resulting in a TCO of Server$/users + $600 per user, instead TCO per user = Server$/users + $800 + total support cost/user + total upgrade and replacement cost/user.

    I wish I had a study handy to link too on the TCO of PC's. Studies have been done, and TCO is high. The Sun Ray will reduce costs dramatically.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    You basically have the specs correct. A few additions: * If you are using the SmartCard features, you can use a card to transfer your session from one Corona to another without logging out. So, if your monitor goes out, you pull your card, move to another desk, put your card in, and you do not have to relogin, etc. You pick up where you left off. * These things boot via DHCP so that they are completely interchangeable if one were to go down. * They have _no fan_ so they are _extremely_ quiet. * The video issue we are still working on. =)

Disraeli was pretty close: actually, there are Lies, Damn lies, Statistics, Benchmarks, and Delivery dates.