Sun shines on students

Students in the land of living skies can expect their horizons to be enlightened a little further by a Sun Ray this autumn.

Sun Microsystems, SaskTel and four of Saskatchewan’s school boards have teamed up to offer its student bodies a pilot project giving them access to a Web-based education network using Sun Ray 1 enterprise appliances. Access to SaskTel’s education portal – – is at the heart of the largest Sun Ray enterprise appliance deployment undertaken by Sun to date in Canada. The initiative is intended to address the need for improved and easy-to-use access to on-line educational resources in southwestern and west central Saskatchewan. The pilot concludes in June 2001.

“Sun is making significant strides in the K to 12 area. Historically, we haven’t been involved,” explained Garry Mees, Sun’s director of corporate development for Canada in Toronto. “With Sun Ray we wanted to find the perfect marketplace to pilot this technology. The folks at SaskTel worked with us to find the four school boards to put together the pilot.”

Students from kindergarten to grade 12 in 42 schools across four districts will have access to 3,300 Sun Ray 1 appliances, which features the Sun Ray Hot Desk architecture – a personal computing approach which removes everything from the user’s desktop except the necessary physical components (keyboard, mouse, display, audio and video output). Each classroom, teacher’s desk, library, and administrative office will be equipped with the Hot Desks, replacing the institution’s outdated personal computers. The Hot Desks are centrally managed and draw their computing resources from the Sun Ray enterprise server software.

“This is by far the largest Canadian pilot we’ve undertaken,” Mees continued. “The Hot Desk architecture is a more economical, more secure model of computing and hopefully this pilot will demonstrate that for us.”

With no operating system or client software on the desktop appliance, application client processes and other services run unchanged on the server and render their output to a virtual frame buffer. The output is transmitted by way of a high-speed dedicated interconnect to the attached Sun Ray 1 enterprise appliance.

“This initiative significantly lowers the capital bubble that schools run into,” said Ted Jawniak, a system architect for Sun Computer Systems (Alberta) Ltd. in Regina. “The Saskatchewan school boards can not attract the type of IT staff necessary to support the PC paradigm. [Sun Rays are] hands-free maintenance.”

The North West Separate School Division and the Battlefords School Division in North Battleford, as well as the Moose Jaw Separate School Division and the Moose Jaw Public School Division in Moose Jaw, will reap the rewards of this endeavour.

“This essentially means more access to computers in the classroom,” said Jim Triets, superintendent of business administration for the Moose Jaw Separate School Division. “We purchased the hardware at a reduced rate (from Sun). Each classroom will have five stations and those stations will offer one to three applications.”

It is estimated that by September, Sun Ray systems will provide more than 11,000 students and 800 faculty, administrators and school officials with access to on-line educational materials, resources and curriculum through The portal is hosted by, SaskTel’s Application Service Provider. The 91-year-old telecommunication provider’s educational portal will also provide students and faculty alike with StarOffice, Sun’s office productivity suite.

Sun’s Enterprise 250 and 450 servers – which run Solaris OS – will comprise the backbone of the network. Moreover, at the core of SaskTel’s network infrastructure is the Herculean Sun Enterprise 10000 server, thus proving Sun and SaskTel are anything but strangers.

“I can’t say we’ve undertaken a project of this magnitude together before but Sun and SaskTel have enjoyed a long and successful relationship together,” Mees said. “SaskTel’s familiarity with our technologies and their willingness to get involved was a deciding factor (to stage the pilot in Saskatchewan).”

SaskTel was anxious to roll-out its productivity suite of Web applications to the students and academe of Saskatchewan.

“This is an opportunity for us to determine the marketability in our region of our Quantumlynx office productivity suite,” said Darcee MacFarlane, director of corporate affairs with Regina-based SaskTel. “We’d like to see the pilot run its course and then see if we can offer it to not only the education market but other industries in both Saskatchewan and the rest of the world.”

Analyst Warren Chaisatien of Toronto-based IDC Canada had nothing but praise for the initiative and the technology.

“The Hot Desk technology allows users access to applications on any screen and in a controlled environment, such as a school, it’s highly efficient,” he said. “The education industry is a relatively tough one to crack since there are government procedures and budget constraints to wade through. Sun is willing to invest in this industry and show both educators and the world that they’re at the centre of the e-commerce network.”