Sun sheds Ray of light on thin client paradigm

According to Sun Microsystems Inc. executives, the company’s Sun Ray 1 enterprise appliance is such a thin client that there is no computer on the desktop.

“There’s nothing here,” said Ed Zander, president and COO of Sun. “There’s no operating system in here. It’s all in the software.”

Gene Banman, vice president and general manager of desktop systems and workstations product group said, “Everything is on the server…this is stateless… Management is handled entirely at the server where one copy of the O/S is running,” leaving only one copy for network administrators to manage.

“Best of all, you’re completely mobile within the workgroup… Your desktop goes with you,” said Banman. The device runs off of a server with the Sun Ray enterprise server software which in turn connects to application servers and data centres. User sessions are maintained on the Sun Ray server, allowing users to move between Sun Ray 1 devices and carry their active sessions with them by logging in or with the smart card reader on the front of the appliance.

The 1.8kg appliance measures 10.2cm wide, 28cm deep and 30.6cm high. It features a headphone jack in front and in back there is a 10/100BaseT port, a monitor connector and four USB ports, two of which are used for the keyboard and mouse.

According to Robert McKee, group marketing manager for information appliances and Webtop for Sun in Palo Alto, the USB ports only support keyboard, mouse, and track ball at this time, though future plans include support for peripherals such as USB disk drives and printers.

“The piece that’s missing is the software to run USB devices,” said McKee.

Other future developments include extending the device beyond its current workgroup-only level, according to Sun executives.

For now, Gail Smith, senior vice-president of front office development for the Bank of Nova Scotia in Toronto said she’s not interested in peripherals at all.

“I don’t want any moving parts,” Smith said, adding that the simplicity of the appliance is exactly what she’s looking for in her organization to reduce the need to send technical staff to fix desktops that employees have fiddled with.

As for the potential need for disk drives, Smith said most information that traditionally has been moved around on disks can now be e-mailed anyway, “and if we have a central place for disks to be used, I can keep track and see what’s on those disks,” both in terms of keeping company data secure and preventing the import of viruses.

The Bank of Nova Scotia is a long-time Sun customer, but Smith said this technology was so important that she would have gone with whatever company had developed it first.

“We tried the Java stations. Same company, they didn’t work,” said Smith.

She has been impressed, however, in her trial of 50 Sun Ray 1 appliances. The bank is not using smart cards at this time, opting just for login and password, but is using a mixed NT and UNIX environment.

“I’ve got UNIX bigots and NT bigots. I’m not going to get in the middle of that battle. I want to deliver applications… We needed to prove that we could deliver that NT environment that users were used to.”

With the Sun Ray 1, Smith said delivery was “instant” without having to adjust applications at all.

“The first time we saw NT and UNIX windows on the same screen, that proved (this technology) to me.”

List pricing for Sun Ray 1 is $805, or the appliance and related software can be leased for three years at $26.89 per month or for five years at $16.99 per month.

Sun Microsystems of Canada Inc. in Markham, Ont., is at (905) 477-6745.

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