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Thin Clients in a Computer Lab Environment? 377

chachi8 asks: "I work as a lab administrator in a university, and I currently look after about 500 Windows-based PCs spread out over 20 locations. The IT administration at my school has recently (and quite suddenly) decided that thin clients are a direction we should be pursuing, and I've been doing some research over the past few weeks. We've recently been visited by representatives of Citrix who basically showed us some really impressive software that is far from cheap. Because we're a university facing budget cuts, cost is a major issue for us, so what I'm interested in knowing is whether anyone has implemented a thin-client solution in a computer lab environment, and whether it turned out to be cost effective over a 3-5 year timeframe. Clearly, the idea of being able to add an extra few years to the lives of our lab PCs is very attractive, as is the thought of being able to centrally administer the software in all of our labs, but I'm as yet unclear as to whether the costs of servers and licensing (and everything else) will really result in a long-term savings in money."
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Thin Clients in a Computer Lab Environment?

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  • K12Linux LTSP (Score:5, Informative)

    by James1006 ( 544398 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:26PM (#3094583) Homepage

    Absolutely phenomenal. We installed it today and will be deploying it in a lab environment soon.

    Not a SINGLE problem in install or setup.
    • I don't like the idea of teaching students especially at a young age about the "supposed" benefits of Linux and open source software. These youngsters will grow up malformed to a Microsoft controlled and dominated society and can cause deep psychological problems for the rest of their lives. You wouldn't want the children to turn out like this [] now would you? Closed source Microsoft software belongs in the education sector, particularly when young impressionable children are involved.
      • Re:K12Linux LTSP (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward
        How are children going to be corrupted by linux?

        The whole point of having computers in school is so that people can get computer skills and fit into a society that has ever climbing computer literacy demands.
        Most people would think that learning linux is an advantage. You seem to think of it as an ism that would stunt a child's development. This is quite disturbing. The probem I have with it is the implication that someone who starts off with a cryptic operating system, will never be able to fit into a highlevel computer world filled with business logic.

        There are many successful microsoft users who started off with Amiga, Commodores and Trs 80s and these people are quite successful despite the fact that their former platforms had cult like followings.

        I'm sure that most would agree that the more oses you can work with, the better prepared you are to deal with tomorrow's challenges.

        Lighten up!!

        Linux and BSD are fun OSes. They can teach a student how to think. They are not the only answer, but they are a great help.

        Linux certainly isn't the child corrupting form of substance abuse that you think it is. As long as people are learning something from it, what could possibly be wrong?

        Even if you could get other people to agree with you, how do you propose banning linux?

        Maybe we could have another prohibition?

        Maybe we could have a linux user's age?
        Wouldn't that be funny! - Having to show id to download redhat!:)

    • More K12 Linux (Score:3, Informative)

      by Daengbo ( 523424 )
      The parent is a little shy on details and there is one more post farther down which is better, but I'll add my opinions.
      Assess your needs first. What kind of computer lab? What will the students be doing there? Is connectivity with MS apps/OS a requirement? What type of budget do you have for the changeover? What are your current and forecasted staffings for this lab?
      There are many "LTSP" posts, and I think that's great, because I administer 45 machines set up this way at my language lab in a Thai university, but it may or may not be for you. We require some Windows programs that were pruchased before I came on, so we use a Win2000 terminal server and the rdesktop program.
      It all works beautifully, but do NOT be confused by some of the posts below, because sound IS NOT supported on terminal server. The word from MS is maybe next generation (really makes you wish it was open source and you could just add it in, no?).
      I researched this for about four months, and, in the end, we went with K12LTSP, which is preconfigured for LTSP using auto DHCP on RH 7.2 with all sorts of difficult to set up issues already resolved (including sound). It includes a lot of extra software like openoffice, and you can just pop in a RH7.2 disk to get the development stuff you will probably need. It is an awesome piece of work, and I heartily recommend it.
      As I said, start with evaluating your needs before locking yourself into a solution that may cause you more headaches than individual machines.
  • Check out netboot.
  • Silly question (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lxy ( 80823 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:27PM (#3094592) Journal
    The obvious anser is right here []. That is assuming of course that linux is a viable answer. If you're talking Windows thin client (I hope you're not, since you did post this to /.) Citrix is your only real option.
  • I post this in the hope that it will avert all the uninformed "Can't you do this with VNC?" posts. I believe you can run terminal server on a SAMBA box, BTW, and there are even BSD clients for it.
    • VNC will not provide a multiuser envirnoment like citrix (read the FAQ for VNC, they are very clear on that.) However, in a UN*X environment, there is a way to get Xvnc (part of VNC) to act as Citrix, through inetd. It works, and the proformance is fairly reasonable. The website is []
      Again, this would not be helpfull in the case of a Windows environment, but if you ever consider linux, this may be helpful to you.
    • Can you offer any explanation? VNC can provide several remote desktops at the same time.

      I'm not saying I advocate this as an ideal solution, but, having used VNC quite a bit I don't see how you can back up your assertion.

      Also, what are you talking about in your second sentence? What do you mean by "terminal server?" Surely you don't mean MS Terminal Server . . . ?

  • by larien ( 5608 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:27PM (#3094594) Homepage Journal
    Ask Citrix to give you a list of other sites where they have implemented their software successfully and visit them. Ask the local administrators (and users!) how they find it.

    However, make sure that it's a site similar to the one you are on; no point getting a business as a reference site for a uni.

    Finally, if things don't go as planned post-implementation, point out to Citrix that you are educating the future decision makers of the world; if they perceive that Citrix is crap, they won't buy it in years to come. That should get them to help fix your problems!

    • Citrix is great (Score:2, Informative)

      by wettoad ( 136685 )
      Citrix is a really cool program.
      We use it at my work here in Germany, I have no idea of the cost of the central server program but the clients are free and they run great. I use it on Debian on they are uber speedy, all the rendering is down client side so the bandwidth needed is minimal. My only complaint is the way it handles animated gifs on webpages, they really slow the client down. But excel have no probs

      One note though is that microsoft requires licenses for each machine(unique ip) that connects to there servers but apparently this only costs about 5 dollars per machine

      IMHO: buy it

      • Re:Citrix is great (Score:4, Informative)

        by jnik ( 1733 ) on Saturday March 02, 2002 @12:11AM (#3096280)
        One note though is that microsoft requires licenses for each machine(unique ip) that connects to there servers but apparently this only costs about 5 dollars per machine.

        That is incorrect. Each machine that ever connects to the server requires a Windows Server CAL, $40. It also requires a Terminal Services CAL, $135. So each seat costs $175. Each concurrent connection to the server requires a Citrix connect license, about $300-$400 depending on what flavour of Citrix.

        So fully replacing a PC costs around $500, plus the cost of the terminal, plus the cost of the server. Now, standard educational discount can run up to 90%--of course, you can frequently get educational discount on the hardware as well. Don't forget that applications running on the server are also licensed per-seat. Can't just install one copy of Office and run the whole place.

        Citrix is also a bit of PITA to administrate. It's doing a difficult thing, and doing it pretty well, but there are minor sniglets, especially if you're using the more advanced functionality. Short answer? Better have a good reason to use Citrix. If you have one, it'll work out; installing Citrix blind, however, leads to massive problems. We use it where I work as part of our suite of services, and it fills the niche we use it for very well. But I'm not about to ditch all the computers in the office for WinTerms.

        Also never hurts to remember: The network is the load average.

    • I work at a university lab and we use Citrix. Extremely expensive, yes, but it is quite good... if you want ot pay for it.
    • I work at the Aurora Public Library in Illinois. - Our catalog/circulation system is Horizon from Epixtech. For everything else we use Citrix Metaframe. The servers are owntown, with T1 connections to the branches. Staf accounts plus Patron access goes through Citrix- most of the time really smooth, however hardware failures occasionally cause problems ;). If you wish to know more contact me at coren@ and I will see if the head of network services would like to talk to you.
    • Here's a reference (Score:3, Interesting)

      by RobNich ( 85522 )
      We implemented Metaframe XP on Windows 2000 at work in November. We moved from thick clients to Metaframe servers with an ICA client running on Linux thin clients. I put together a server and created a boot CD which boots using DHCP and mounts root over NFS. You could also use floppies.

      The server holds an image for each hardware configuration, since we only have a total of 4 video/nic combinations. The server is a PII-300 with 128MB of RAM, and a 9GB SCSI HD. We had this box and another identical box laying around. I have them set up so that one can take the other's place if it were to go down (it never has). We have 40 clients using thin clients in this way.

      This was an interim measure because we didn't have the money to purchase new hardware last year.

      Recently we started replacing the old desktops with Wyse thin clients, which run a proprietary operating system in ROM, and come with a USB keyboard and mouse (without wheel) for $300. I set up an FTP server for them to retrieve firmware updates from.

      But back on the Linux thin clients. They boot very quickly compared to Windows, and present a Windows 2000 logon screen. Ctrl-Alt-Del and the Windows key work exactly as expected. The only drawback (the way that _I_ put it together) is that the thin clients don't have any unique configuration, such as screen resolution. But there are ways to get around that (but I haven't needed to).

      Gawd. When I get time, I will document this project on my site. If you'd like more info, email me at robin d0t daugherty a+ ovf d0t com.
      • by q-soe ( 466472 ) on Saturday March 02, 2002 @04:33AM (#3096960) Homepage
        Same for us - we run a large environment which has to encompass a lot of remote sites and we have been running citrix metaframe 1.8 and now Xp with NT and 2000 terminal server. We use WYSE thin client boxes and they are good value, invredibly reliable and the newer ones have a customised windows CE configuration - you dont even need to have an ip for the server you can configure for a domain and load balance the farm as we do, the first available server (we run 18 load balanced) picks up the client connection and runs with it - if you get your links up to a decent speed this is an option but if not (in the case of remote sites) i adivse setting them to connect to a specific server and then if thats not availble they will choose another - this cuts down on profile copying between boxes (citrix is heavily profile based - stored on the home server of the user).

        Publishing APPS is extremely simple and is easier than Windows Terminal Server - this solution is not the best and citrix offers advantages over it.

        The things to be aware of / cons
        1. Bandwidth - citrix claim 32kb is used by each full delivered client - dont believe them if your users use large databases or financial sofwtare - aim for an overhead of at least half this again and spec the link accordingly x number of users and add an extra 10% - i run 10 people over a 320k link which can be slow under heavy load - increasing this to 384k seemed to give me better performance and 512k made it very fast.
        2. User issues - the clients will piss users of if they have had PC's - they have NO cd roms, no floppy drives and the things you can do on a normal PC (like installing software) cannot be done on metaframe - it's a very secure solution and if you are smart and want to lower support you will lock down the desktop and scrensavers and set the default screen res to 1024x768 - this is what we have found to be best, when a user logs into my farm they get a blank screen with no icons and a limited programs selection in the start menu - all of their applications are delivered in a program neighbourhood window. also lock the size of caches and internet files down to a minimum size - long login times are often related to large internet caches.

        Users do like it once they get used to it and from a support view the thing is great full remote control built in means you can see instantly what a user is doing, the admin tools are fantastic and support is a cinch. All drives and printers are simply login script homed (we use Kixstart but are moving to an active directory domain so thats changing) and file perissions and access to application farms are as simple as configuring domain groups.

        Once you get it worked out its worth the considerable cost, run a license gateway and you dont need overtly large licenses - a license not in use on one server can be used by another and by using load balancing a fault tolerance can be built in (a session will be terminated is a server goes down but a user can log straight back into another)

        I liked it so much that even though im the manager i got my CCA (citrix Certified Administrator) and im working on my CCEA (Citrix Certified Enterprise Administrator) if youre looking for a cert which offers returns on investment the CCEA is it but YOU MUST be a REAL mcse as it needs a pretyy deep knowledge base (Paper MCSE should not bother)

        Citrix is used heavily in University environmments (i know of 6 here in australia alone) so check it out at them.

        PS a note - The downside to citrix is it needs MEATY server - i buy Quad Xeon's with 2.5gb ram and 80gb raids for them - it needs it.
  • I have installed LTSP [] and it works like a charm. No client maintenance issues. Can be booted from the NIC. And best of all it's FREE.
  • Install Linux/xBSD and XFree86 on all the workstations and configure [k|x|g]dm to connect to a few servers. Instant thin client. As for the servers, Dual Athlon boxes with alot of memory running Linux/xBSD would do fine. If Windows is a must have, ignore this.
  • by CyberKnet ( 184349 ) <slashdot.cyberknet@net> on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:29PM (#3094614) Homepage Journal
    I know a few years back at an Australian university we looked at thin clients for our computer labs. FWIW, the cost (Back then) of thin clients was about the clost of a Celeron computer, and did not come with a monitor either. The server (IIRC) had to have a whole bunch of memory (some 64mb per client, plus a very large overhead for windows + citrix), then they added Windows access licenses for NT on to each terminal that needed to access the server, plus NT client access licenses ... in the end it was just WAY more expensive than individual computers, even including total cost of ownership. However, I will re-iterate, this was some three years ago though... the scene has probably changed...
    • by ink ( 4325 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @08:30PM (#3095477) Homepage
      We're doing it right now. We have a lab of 20 machines (, half of which are real X11 terms (Wyse) and the other half are pentium 166 machines with RedHat 7.2 on them. We have a custom kickstart image on a webserver that completely installs Linux to our exact taste with one line:

      LILO: ks http://ourserver/ksconfig.cfg
      It'll then take off and format the disk, and intall Linux plus all our customizations (it even handles different hard disk sizes nicely). We have other config files for the print server, the beowulf cluster and the IDS. It's really nice and neat; we hardly have to touch the lab. As for how the thin clients work: we run KDE on the server (1ghz Athlon with 512MB RAM), and we fired up all workstations plus Konqueror, Mozilla 0.9.8, XEmacs and the KDE desktop. The system was still very very quick to respond, even though the load was sitting at about 6 at that point. Good stuff!
  • Sun Sunrays (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Metrollica ( 552191 ) <m etrollica AT hotmail D0T com> on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:30PM (#3094626) Homepage Journal
    Sunrays [] from Sun [] are the best and most popular choice. They have been deployed in many areas in the US and out including Canada and Europe.
    • Due to the expense of the back-end server, I'm not sure you'll save a whole lot of hardware cost going to Sun Rays. However, you should be able to cut administrative costs / hassle a good bit. That and it's really really cool to be able to put your terminal session in your pocket ( they have smart cards which carry session info).
    • I believe Sun provides good deals for Universities. My alma mater had close to 200 Sun Ultra workstations (at the time they were top-of-the-line beauties). I heard rumours that the school really got an awesome educational/bulk purchase deal.

      I bet Sun would be eating out of your hand if you land a 500 Sunray deal with them. Put a couple of Sun Fire 4800s behind the Sunrays and you would really have a potent setup that needs only a few staff members to maintain it. Even better, if a disgruntled student trashes a Sunray, you are only out a few hundred dollars--the Sun Fires will be safe in your machine rooms.
    • Re:Sun Sunrays (Score:3, Informative)

      by BigT ( 70780 )
      I helped set up and run a lab of 20 sunrays for the math department at the university I went to. They replaced 20 Ultra 1's. Administration became much easier.

      They aren't incredibly cheap compared to what you could build low-end PCs for these days. But not having to maintain many individual wintel machines might make up for the price.

      Another thing to watch is that the sunrays need their own 100Mb switched network. (AKA the Sunray Interconnect Fabric. Thank you marketing.) If you have Sunray Enterprise Appliances (again, thanks) in many different buildings, this may be a problem, as they would need their own switch in each building. And each switch needs it's own connection to the server. This could be a problem if you don't have dark fiber/copper in the ground. I seem to remember that you can't use vlans for this. Check the info on

      One very good thing about this solution is the 5-year warranty. If an appliance dies, you call sun, get the new one in 2-3 days, swap it with the old one and you're going again. no fixing PCs.

      They do sound, you can surf the web, read e-mail, and use StarOffice for your office apps which is all most students might need.

      my $0.02


  • by Talsan ( 515546 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:30PM (#3094628) Homepage
    My university has experimented with thin clients, and has chosen to continue to use full PCs for the labs. The client boxes were nice, but they did not work as well and tended to be harder for them to keep running. Now the only thin clients they use are some Compaqs that they've placed around the school as email terminals. --These are actually very popular among students, as they don't have to fight for lab space just to check their email.

  • by Leven Valera ( 127099 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:31PM (#3094636) Homepage Journal
    As a database administrator / designer working with imaging databases in a WinFrame Citrix enviroment, you might want to make absolutely sure all of your software will run before you buy. Some of our compilers and custom tools absolutely will not load or execute properly on the Citrix server, yet work perfectly fine on every other NT platform on the planet.

    Weeeeeee. Oh yeah, and some apps simply will not run. WordPerfect2000 and some others come to mind.

  • by joshv ( 13017 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:31PM (#3094639)
    Ok, think about this, you can probably keep using the same monitors forever, and replace the PC for something like $500 and run all the apps you'd ever want to run in a computer lab. Now, start adding up the Windows licenses you'll need for each PC, plus the Citrix licensing, plus the monster server(s) you'd need to support 300 Citrix clients...

    For ease of administration, use ghost to create disk images for each PC configuration. Something goes wrong? Wipe the PC and restore the image.

    The thing is that hardware is getting cheaper by the day, software isn't.

  • My experiences (Score:5, Informative)

    by yamla ( 136560 ) <> on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:31PM (#3094644)
    At the university [] I attended, the computing science department tried something similar to this.

    Having a central Windows machine and thin clients for each of the users was a horrendous mistake. Whole labs spent as much time non-functional as they spent functional. Even having users change their passwords was problematic. Now, this was a few years back now and things may have improved. However, the only way I'd consider this is if the company you are buying the hardware from will guarantee uptime. This should be at least 99.9% uptime (and yes, this includes security patches and hardware failures), otherwise you are going to get crucified.

    On the other hand, the computing science department also maintains several labs running OpenBSD [] for the client operating system. A student can log in to any computer in any lab because the /home directories are exported (over NFS, I think, but I could be wrong) from central file servers. The default software is installed locally so things can run very quickly but a large amount of additional software is also installed on central file servers and exported out to all the machines.

    That setup is not bulletproof but the uptime is measured in weeks or months rather than hours or days. Depending on the year, it probably approaches 99.9% uptime. It also has the nice advantage of almost all of the software being entirely free.

    So which should you go with? From my experience (ymmv), the clearly superior technical solution is to run OpenBSD on a large number of semi-thin client Intel machines. This is far more reliable than a competing Windows solution. From a cost perspective, there's really no comparison. That said, this assumes that you can migrate over to a Unix style environment. Not everyone can. Do not forget that you'd be throwing out all your Windows software using this solution. Also, you require sysadmins who are familiar with Unix. I assume this is the case.

    • Re:My experiences (Score:3, Interesting)

      by neolinux ( 563236 )
      I too have had much experience with thin clients. I work for a thin client company developing linux based thin clients. I have always thought thin clients (or at least the idea) was perfectly matched to a school's needs. They are relatively inexpensive, easy to maintain and use.

      The question of server software of course depends on what applications your users will need. Many school labs use PCs as glorified type writers and web browsers. This is quite wasteful in my opinion. There are several server packages that may be of interest, many have already been mentioned:

      Citrix (For your Win Apps), RDP (if you just love MS), Citrix CDS (free, missing some functionallity like load balancing and client drive mapping, but largley functional),
      Tarantella, and of course XDM, *nix terminals.

      Many thin clients (particularly *nix based ones) are capable of connecting to all of these types of servers and more. I use thin clients dayly for all sorts of "lab-like" activities: email, word processing, web browsing, /. ing, development. I rarly have difficulties.

      Because thin clients depend on the network and servers for running applications, a fast network is quite desirable. This also makes then inappropriate for some tasks; basically anything that is graphics intensive. That is unless you are running that app locally (i.e. your thin client comes with a web browser).

      If you are really cost conscious, try turning those existing PCs into thin client devices by running LTSP or simply installing linux, and limiting the applications available to the users. Unfortunatly this does provide you with all of the management advantages of a thin client.

      Another option would be to buy thin clients (definately recycle your existing monitors) and use your PCs are nodes in a server farm. These can be running Citrix or just doing simple XDM load balancing.

      In general I think that the combonation of thin clients and well maintained servers is perfect for 80% of the computer labs found in schools. If you like the idea of thin clients there are really many ways to proceed. The best starting point is simply to define which labs need access to what applications. Then decide which of those you want to run on your servers (some are more CPU intesive than others: web browswers). Then find a client (or roll your own) that has just enough CPU to run it's local apps and connect to your servers.

      Good luck.
  • by zubernerd ( 518077 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:32PM (#3094647)
    Products like citrix are targeted to the business environment or low bandwidth use such as spreadsheets, wordprocessing, etc. (Where your screen updates are minimal) If you are going to do graphics, Citrix is not for you. Sound is okay, though Terminal Services (RDP 5) seems to have better sound. So what do you use those lab machines for? Simple office like apps, or programming, or graphics. That will dictate if Citrix, or anyother product liek it, is worth the money.
  • Citrix... (Score:3, Informative)

    by evilpaul13 ( 181626 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:32PM (#3094649)
    I've seen their technology in use, and it is quite impressive. It is also very expensive though as you mention.

    What I'd suggest is either since you are already using Windows get a Windows Terminal Server and use RDP. Just this week I used a RDP client for Linux, and it worked flawlessly (, so client OS won't really matter all that much with a Terminal Server.

    Alternately, you could get a nice Linux/UNIX server and run remote X sessions.

    Either solution requires a competent Administrator, and a beefy server, but both are probably cheaper than Citrix's Metaframe (or whatever it was called) software.
    • Re:Citrix... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by spacefrog ( 313816 )
      so client OS won't really matter all that much with a Terminal Server

      From a purely technical standpoint, you are correct.

      Although, I believe Terminal Services is only licensed for access from Windows-based clients. I realize that this isn't a factor for your average Slashdot reader playing around in his parent's basement, license compliance is a major issue for the corporate/business/educational worlds... Like it or not, violating the license in that way is no different from simply pirating the software to begin with.

      Please don't flame me, I'm not trying to stick up for them, nor do I care for this myself, but simply to point out cold, hard business details.
      • Re:Citrix... (Score:3, Informative)

        by ( 153985 )
        I believe Terminal Services is only licensed for access from Windows-based clients.

        I don't think so. Citrix makes a Metaframe Client for DOS. Definitely not a Windows client.

        What you need is a license for a NT or 2000 desktop for each client, depending on which version of terminal services you're running. Even though the desktop OS is not installed on your terminal, you must have a license for the desktop OS.

        Also, if you use terminal services from a device that IS running the appropriate OS, then you do not need an additional license for the OS to run a terminal window.

        Plus you need a TS CAL and a File/Print (server) CAL.

  • by MH ( 25322 )
    My company uses Citrix as a remote access solution, effectively the same thing as you're talking about, albeit over a greater distance (continental US). I've used it quite a bit from my home PC on the east coast connecting to the Citrix server on the west coast with no problems.

    I don't administer the actual server, but from my understanding, certain groups are setup to see different applications: developers might see whatever development tools they use, remote sales folks see whatever tools they use, etc. Other things (access to Windows Explorer, the "Run" dialog box, etc. can also be locked down).

    My experience thus far has been a very positive one. It's been a relatively quick connection as well, especially considering the distance. Unfortunately, as I didn't set the system up, I can't really provide anymore information than what I've said so far.

    In terms of having longer lives for the current lab PCs, I figure as long as they can still run the Citrix client, there shouldn't be any problems.
  • This may or may not be an option for your lab setting, but using X terminals as a thin client solution is a very cost effective solution.

    You don't even need to modify your current machines, if you want to demo/test this solution. Make a bootdisk with a Linux kernel and a barebones X server (I know these will fit on a floppy because I've seen it done). Put one of these floppies in each workstation. Setup a fast machine with lots of RAM with a UNIX of your choice which will be the server that hosts all of your X clients (in other words, applications).

    This solution is used in a lot of places, and X is one of the most mature, well documented, stable, inexpensive, [insert warm-fuzzies inducing adjective] thin client solutions out there.
    • *cough*

      a bare-bones linux distribution, with XServer, on a floppy?

      *cough* *cough*

      Bullshit. no way. uh-uh. not gonna happen.

      not when the XFree86 4.2 server is 1.3 megs, and thats just the XFree86 file. no drivers, no libraries.

      sorry charlie...
  • by neurojab ( 15737 )
    I don't think putting these machines in a lab is a good idea. Here's why: The cost savings is supposed to come from cheaper administration and the idea that thin clients aren't outdated as fast as thick clients. The sad truth is that thin clients are outdated FASTER than thick clients. If you take your 486 PC, you can run linux and a WinFrames client, you've got a system for the ages ;) But what if you've got a SUN NC? Good luck trying to find a good use for that. What are you going to do three years from now when the speed is no longer acceptable? What's your upgrade path?

    With your "thin client" solution, you're paying a lot of money for low-speed hardware, so why not by cheap standard hardware instead and go with thin-client software?

  • CIS at Ohio State (Score:4, Interesting)

    by clark625 ( 308380 ) < minus pi> on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:38PM (#3094701) Homepage

    I still am in awe of what our CIS department [] has done at Ohio State. They handle something like 200 thin clients, plus all the remote sessions.

    Basically, you sit down at an old, stripped down HP-UX machine or a thin client that allows you to log into one of their servers. NT and Solaris are the typical flavors--I can't remember what the other option was. Plus, if you log into the Solaris box, you can open a Citrix client and use that to be logged into an NT server. This is really nice for writing code in UNIX land, but using MS Office for the documentation.

    I would just love it if the EE department could get a clue and do something similar. It really would give us the best of all worlds. Oh, and you can read more about the CIS setup here. []

  • Hidden Costs (Score:5, Informative)

    by danheskett ( 178529 ) <> on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:41PM (#3094723)
    Something you may not have considered, but is a very real problem is concerned with "shrink".

    A school that I used to attend replaced a good 50% of the campus machines with nice-ish PIII machines (this was a few years back). They had plenty of RAM, fast chips, nice video cards, etc.

    At the end of the project the administration cut out the tiny piece of the budget for video camera system. Opps.

    By the time I left that place 18 months later things had really gone to hell. Most of the labs had been cut in half or less due to student theft of equipment. Numerous machines had been "cross-graded" - ie, swapping out that PIII-800 Mhz chip with that oldish PII-450. It was a major problem. Plus, of course, there were people who'd just snatch and run. Not good, not good.

    Bottom line is that thin-terminals are virtually useless for most people, and therefore, the incentive for theft is largely removed.

    Had my school gone with TC in stead of desktops, they probably would have saved $25k-50k just in preventing theft. A good chunk of change, I'd say.
    • Actually, if you go with a thin client solution primarily as an effort to discourage theft of PCs, you need to make sure you go with *really* thin clients.

      For example, most thin clients I've seen (such as Wyse WinTerms) that run embedded Windows NT (often called NTE) come with a decent-sized flash disk chip in them, and use standard DIMM memory sticks. Basically, they're a full-fledged PC in a very small case with no need for CPU or cooling fans. They're quite desirable for re-purposing for other projects, such as an in-car MP3 player or a dedicated firewall/router.

      I'd think anyone interested enough in PCs to steal parts from them, or "downgrade" the systems, would *love* to grab a thin client of this type to drag back to the dorm and hack around on.

      You probably want to use something that only runs Windows CE from firmware and can't do anything but terminal emulation and Citrix ICA connections.
  • by bytewize ( 324814 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:42PM (#3094732)
    Recently I deployed a thin client solution using Tarantella from

    It works great using a webbrowser or the native client.
    By using RSA securid I have been able to securely deploy both windows and unix applications to users on the internet. There are native clients available for windows, linux and Solaris

    The big advantage is that you only need a windows terminal server for your windows applications. By moving as many applications as possible to Linux you can save a lot of money.

    Regards Kenneth
    • Tarantella is a really great product! Not only can it serve up Windows applications, X applications, TN3270/5250 access, telnet, and custom things (e.g. we did SSH), but it also can be used to conserve network bandwidth. It also supports browser-based X.509 authentication (to trusted web server) for single-signon like access, in addition to SecureID.

      Java applets can be accessed via the web versus native clients as well, which should make the job of "upgrading" 500 PC's (ala Citrix) a thing of the past. This works nicely in a true thin hardware environment, e.g. Sun Ray.

      Tarantella also integrates well in a portal environment.

      If you're serious about taking control over large numbers of deployed PC/workstation, applications, and network bandwidth, I'd check out what these folks have to offer!

  • Everybody is already refering to the Linux TS project, but here is a related project: a HOWTO [] for diskless Windows Terminal Server thin clients, based on Linux. It may be a lot of work, but it seems to me that once you have gone through the trouble, rolling out new terminals will be a breeze.
  • by harryk ( 17509 )
    I am working in a similar situation, where I want to allow a large amount of users access to the thin clients, using web browsing apps, and office applications, but my question is, at what point does load managing become an issue of which machine the user is working from. IE, at 100 users should you get two servers, or what have you.. at what point does a single server not become efficient/suffecient?
  • Count ALL your costs (Score:5, Informative)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:48PM (#3094775) Journal
    Figure out your annual costs to support the network as is for 3 to 5 years. Software + labor + security (virus software) + hardware. Root out ALL the costs, don't ignore anything ("Oh, we only pay work/study students $8 an hour, it's not important") and any impact down time may have. Call up some locations which have already implemented the solutions you are looking at, approx. the same size and also academic institutions, and see what their costs are (it's not like you are in direct competition).

    Get a spreadsheet of the current cost of doing business vs. the solutions you are looking at so you can show it to mgt.

    I think, however, that getting away from a PC/Windows based system is the correct solution. Gartner Group once published a study stating that the cost of supporting a PC based network was up to $10k/yr in some situations. Sure the software *looks* expensive up front, but over 3-5 years moving to thin clents would probably be a great idea.

    But run the numbers first, get competing companies and their products in the door and let them make their best presentation. Make sure they know you are looking at 3 to 5 year costs, not just initial purchases, because PC/Windows always *looks* cheap when you do not factor in the add-ons and support.

    Then decide.
    • You can reduce system theif by using single entry rooms and student asstiant manned labs. If you ask what about 24/7 labs, then you should look no further than a simple alarm system coupled with those little light sensor cables. A person sould have to try very hard to open a proper case enclosed with those cables, much less steal it before the alarms go off...

      also place 24/7 labs at floors higher than ground level. Oh, the little basterds won't have a chance when coupled with hidden cameras. ;)
  • SunRays! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by boopus ( 100890 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:51PM (#3094795) Journal
    I got to Cal(UC berkeley) and we have a couple labs full of SunRays, which I have found great from a user perspective. Now, the thing you're not going to beleive is why. The sunrays are silent. You never notice how loud the fans from forty computers in a lab are untill you walk into one that's quiet. It's much easier to think for long periods of time. The labs are about 50/50 divided between unix pc's and sunrays, and I'll only work on the PC's if I have to, though the (computer desktop) environment is identical.

    There are some disadvantages with sharing a Big Computer with a lot of people, but overall the plusses seem to outweigh the minuses. Last year about halfway through the semester the workload increased on the servers and everything slowed down... This was the bad part. The good part was that a month later, they added another server, switched a number of the clients over to it, and everything jumped back up to speed. If these had been PC's that weren't cutting it any more they would have had to be replaced.

    I have no idea what they've gone through on the administrative level, or if Sun gives us a good deal or not. They deployed a new lab last year, so they must not hate them...
    • Re:SunRays! (Score:2, Informative)

      by Kenja ( 541830 )
      SunRay systems kick mucho ass.
      They are brain dead easy to administrate (at least the latest version of the server software is), whats more if you stick a NT Terminal Server onto the network you can run the Citrix Solaris client very well from a SunRay terminal. This gives you the best of both worlds in most cases. You can even setup acounts to automaticly connect to the NT box when they log in.
      Another great thing about the SunRay solution is the smart cards. Being able to stick my card into any terminal on the network and get my desktop as I last left it (with apps still running) is great.
  • citrix (Score:3, Informative)

    by chinakow ( 83588 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @06:54PM (#3094816)
    If you are on a budget of less then a couple million dollars then you can forget about citrix, unless meta frame has made some serious improvements in the past 6 months, let me tell you why.

    first of all the recomended amount of memory per user is something like 16- 32 MB of ram per user ON THE SERVER, that means that if you want to support 500 users and if you only used to 16mb of memory per user then just to support the users you would need 8 GIGs of ram not to mention the 128 to GIG or ram for just running the OS, not to mention the price of the server that supports that much ram and the price of having between 4 and 8 Zeon procs and then the arrays you would need to store all of the information on that system, something like VNC or some other solution would be more evective, its hard to say what though, thats just my 2 cents

  • info sources (Score:2, Informative)

    by osworks ( 561010 ) [] is a great site for info and their Red Hat Distro. I have meet Eric and Paul a few times, really great people. They have developed quite a following because they are making implimenting a thin client setup really easy.

    K12ltsp is based on [] which is in version 3.0 right now. I use this software to set up computer labs in non-profits in and around Portland. We are a NP ourselves []) It is gaining maturity, system administration is barely more work than working on a box running programs locally. You need to have DHCP running on the server, TFTP setup, and allow it to serve applications to remote X-Clients, and that is about it.

    Here are some links for further reading on what others have done.
    umn []
    olinux []
    solucorp []
    askslashdot []
    gbdirect []
    tucows []
    XDM []
  • My old school (the University of Waterloo) did this as a matter of course. The Math faculty (which housed the CS department) was mostly Unix-based (with some Macs for the first-year students) and when the old VT-200 clones got too moldy, they replaced them with X-terminals--er, I mean, "thin clients". They started out as NCDs but other vendors also provided their batches of them.

    IIRC, they had about ten admin people for the whole thing, which was considered really impressive, given that there were three different computer architectures in use running mostly transparently as "CPU servers". When you logged on, you got XTerms on one or more of them. It was typically the same one but they could change without notice on you. This usually worked because all the GNU tools were compiled on all of the machines. If you really needed to use a particular machine, you could still rlogin to it--all machines NFS-mounted the users' home directories.

    Anyway, it worked pretty well most of the time. The only major problem was that on occasion, the NFS server would get confused and render some or all of the network unusable. This got really, really annoying at 3 AM when you were trying to do an assignment and the admins had gone home. They eventually got a Network Appliance dedicated NFS server for the student accounts, which helped things a lot.

    The X-terminals were pretty long-lived, too. I bought one of them recently from the University some 6 years or so after I'd last used one of those.

  • by ByTor-2112 ( 313205 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:04PM (#3094891)
    I work at a General Electric facility where we recently changed MMS systems to a citrix-driven system, and let me tell you that it is SLOW. A big honking Sun machine powers the Oracle backend, but the user interface runs on Win2k advanced server. On a p2-3xx with 64mb ram and win95, the interface is visibly slow. Another problem we have had is with printing -- the server is supposed to map your printers, but we find that PCs with more than one available printer either won't print, or print to random destinations.

    My understanding is that the "thin client" is supposed to save in hardware costs, which it MIGHT. The software costs, however, can't be that much lower unless you use the Linux citrix client. You still have to pay your Microsoft tax for the OS, and then you need NT CALs, and licenses for Office (which I assume will be the major app used). I just don't see the benefit. Citrix is selling buzzwords and hype with terrible performance.

    Universities have enough problems with bandwidth, imagine having to share all your applications over that pipe with all the mp3s and video traffic!
    • Sounds to me like you guys have your config all nasty.

      On a p2-3xx with 64mb ram and win95, the interface is visibly slow.

      This has to be a result of server load or network bandwith. I have the ICA client running on a P166 with 100Mb switch ethernet and I can't tell the difference between it and the console.

      the server is supposed to map your printers, but we find that PCs with more than one available printer either won't print, or print to random destinations.

      Printer mapping is a nightmare. I am frankly more surprised that it works at all than that it works poorly. I'm transitioning all my printers to sahred printer with netork connections rather than client connected ones. Setup like that it works great.

      You won't save a lot of $ on hardware and no $ on licences but the TCO is lower. A citrix farm is cheaper to admin than 200 desktops, no question.

  • First, let me start by saying that for specific applications, Citrix is great. It can do a lot of neat things. However, like many software packages, it is sold to meet whatever needs you have.

    I worked for a while for a company that was setting up Citrix and selling the service to K-12. We had Citrix experience in-house, and the ability to put together enough hardware to render a movie. However, it just proved cost-ineffective when compared with other options. Citrix has very high costs that are not always obvious. It has never been called "easy to administer", and companies often have to hire Citrix consultants at least to do the initial setup.

    I assume that you are running Windows, and that it isn't an option to switch to Linux. If I'm wrong, well, look at the LTSP posts. However, if I'm right, you can save a ton of money. The only thing preventing many schools from doing this is the stupidity of the IT managers.

    0. Hire students, train them to replace hardware.

    1. Dump Dell, Gateway, etc. PC hardware is a commodity, so why pay a premium? The usual reason is that "that's how a business is run." Businesses are typically run poorly.

    2. Schedule everything around rotation and disposal. Don't throw out machines, cannibalize parts when you can. Have your student employees scavenge everything. When you do buy new, buy not-quite-state-of-the-art (not old, mind you, but do a price/performance graph of, say, processors, and you'll see a leveling of the curve; buy what's at the bend of the curve; this should take 2 minutes in a spreadsheet, yet it isn't done very much).

    3. Don't replace monitors. This is such a boneheard maneuver. Typically, the reason given is that "they're so cheap now." Ugh. Your current monitor is free. Same goes for peripherals, keyboards, mice, etc.

    4. Dump the expensive shared drives. They're nice, but no student ever said, "I'm not going there because I have to drag a disk around." Stick a zip drive and a CDROM burner in each PC, and stick a vending machine with zips and cdrw's in the lab. Hardware-wise, this might be more expensive (although it usually isn't), but hardware isn't the big cost for shared-drive servers. Software and maintenance and support contracts, etc., will be the expensive part. Local drives are virtually maintenance-free.

    5. Don't buy a maintenance contract on anything! This is important; it's where companies make their profits, because the margin is so high. So what if you know some parts will fail? Chance are they'll fail under mfg. warranty, so you won't have to buy a new one. The usual response is, "it's only $200" or "but we need a contract for our $80,000 whozits". The first is silly, $200 is more than any single part in the whole machine. It also typically buys you service that doesn't exist; no one ever comes to your home or business within 24 hours, if ever; they don't make money doing that. As for the second, what are you doing with an $80,000 whozits? $80,000 is for supercomputers (beowulf Linux, of course). Get rid of it.

    Most computer labs have a "burdened cost" per PC of over $4000/yr, including support. This is patently ridiculous. Before buying/buying into any system, including mine, figure out what your burdened cost is, then ask if your grandma could do better without any help. If the answer is yes, well, look for other options.

    One of my favorite profs once said that all you need for a university is a room, some chairs, faculty, students, and a photocopier.

    Right on, right on.

  • Ask your supervisor what the functional requirements of the thin client network are. There is no one answer to their question without a LOT more info.

    Thin Clients can be very useful in an environment, or they can be crap. The only time I've ever seen a sensible business case for thin clients is this:

    A main office with several remote offices needing to run a bloatware database app that requires lots of data bandwidth. Typically the main office has good computers but the remote offices are staffed by 3 or 4 morons (i.e. nontechnical users) and they have PCs ranging from a new Presario w/WinXP the manager bought to a clone Pentium Pro running Windows 95. This is where Citrix shines -- they run the app on the Citrix server and a 56k modem can handle the screen updates on their end.

    There's another place where Citrix is useful, and that is to web-demo your software. You publish the app, embedded in a web page, and tell your customer to go to http://demo.html. Then you shadow their session from the Citirx box, and you're both looking at the same screen, clicking the same icons, and so forth. This is a great way to demo a product and I'm surprised more companies don't do it. (That's what we use it for at work, it's very easy to set up too.)

    That being said, I don't think a computer lab fits into either scenario too well. Maybe if you have low bandwidth links between the remote labs and the servers it would make sense, but why not spend your money on a better link? The licensing costs add up pretty quickly, although one thing to note is that Windows 2000 Pro (not sure about XP Pro) includes a Terminal Services CAL. The Citrix CALs are pricey, as is the citrix server itself. (last i checked about $3K for MetaFrame 1.8 w/15 CALs).

    I haven't looked into this, but I think Windows 2000 Terminal Services have come a long way since NT4 TSE. I was reading just the other day that they can now publish an application in a web page using ASP, providing the same functionality as the Citrix web-demo I talked about above, for $3000 less. (Technically Citrix can do it using ASP or java, blah blah blah.)

    A large portion of whether it's worth pursuing thin clients comes down to how old/disparate is the HW in your labs. If they are all PII 266s it might be worth looking at, however my computer at work is a dell PII 350 laptop and it's absolutely fine for running Win 2K and office xp. I have another user running Win XP, Office XP, and ACT (all resource hogs) on a PII 266 with 64MB RAM -- no complaints. Computers are so fast now that unless you really have junk, or junk from twenty different vendors, then you probably dont' need to upgrade them anyway within the next three to five years.

    As for centrally managing software, that is a big plus. It's a nice benefit of Citrix but it's not the primary function. If managing apps is the reason for deploying thin clients, I'd look at something like SMS, which is a lot harder to set up but is much cheaper and addresses that problem specifically.

    --Hey Taco, can I just send you $5 in the mail, and then block all the ads with proxomitron?
  • Of course, there is one question that must be asked: What, exactly, will these clients DO?

    I ask, because my university uses a blend of computers -- for different uses.

    We have many, many Linux 'kiosks' (essentially HTML/Web TC's), which are scattered around everywhere; They are used for email / web access. They are scattered all over campus, hanging from a wall in a similar way a payphone would. (Complete with plexiglass to allow visibility, but discourage theft).

    They are a hit, and serve their intended purpose extremely well -- a fair number of students were clogging the computer labs just to check their e-mail. This allowed students who needed a 'real' computer to use a computer lab to do their homework, whereas those who just want to check email simply walk up to a kiosk & login.

    Linux-based TC's used in this way are great -- but only for their purpose.

    So consider exactly what the thin-clients will be used for. At a university espescially, there are a great many apps where old PC's can be converted into Linux-based thin-clients, prolonging their lifetime and being easier on the budjet.
  • I've been supporting Thin clients in our labs since back when NCD was selling WinCenter on top of Winframe on top of NT 3.51. (about 5 years) Our mandate was to provide the Windows apps in the lab, UNIX was not an option.

    When it works, it is great! I'd rather have a lab full of thin clients than a lab full of PCs running Windows. The ability to contol the computing environment, configure the software for everyone, quick updates...all just by working on the server. Not to mention the ability to upgrade the entire lab just by upgrading the server. The students knew that each "machine" in the lab would act the same - no surprises after logging in. NCD also provided us with a utility that allowed the NT servers to query our NIS+ server for account information, heck, it even allowed SAMBA to automatically mount their home directories.

    But remember the application software - all these PC programmers are still thinking each user has their own machine - writing files to funny places, popping in registry keys in funny places, gobbling up memory, etc. Some apps don't play nice in the MS terminal server environment.

    We also ran into issues with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and some stats packages - they would run, but far too slow to be useful. When we switched to Windows 2000 from the NT+Citrix mix the clients were limited to 256 colors. Too few to keep the map makers happy.

    A different department on campus had a terrible experience with Citrix when using old PCs as the "thin client" but their problems seemed to stem from a lack of training for lab monitors and users that didn't understand the difference between running an app on the local desktop machine vs. logging into the central server. As we had Xterminals to start, then Windows Based Terminals (yuk) in our labs we didn't have that problem.

    I ended up pulling the thin clients from the lab and installing new PCs but that was more a political decesion by our new Dean than a technical one. Now all our GA's and some staff have thin clients in on their desks where most use them for Email, MS Office, and web browsing - and they work just fine.

    For non-demanding apps you may be okay, remember to double whatever specs Citrix gives you. Only use Citrix if you *have* to. If you must offer Windows apps to thin clients you may be able to use what is built into Windows 2000 w/o the Citrix add-ons. I have a low opinion of Citrix since getting caught in the middle of the licensing battles between them, Microsoft, and NCD. Held up my upgrades for over a year, removed loads of functionality from the product, cost lots more money. I was happy to leave Citrix behind.

    I miss having the old Xterminals in the labs, heck, I even miss the NCD Thinstars in the labs, but we'll be setting up the PCs to dual boot...
  • If you want to centralize administration, and don't really care what happens underneath that, why not just maintain a reference Windows machine, take drive images, and re-image the drives of the lab machines (over the network) on a weekly basis?

    There's software available to automatically do this for NT-based systems (a few parts of the university I'm at do that). Or, you could set up a few shell scripts on a small *nix partition on each machine to do the same thing.

    You'd have to make sure that you had only one or a small number of hardware and software configurations throughout the labs, but that tends to happen anyways (machines are bought en masse, and there are only a few departments you're responsible for).

    I'm not sure what a thin client solution would buy you over this, and it would introduce additional headaches (having to maintain a very powerful server to serve all of the clients, for one thing).
  • by MHQ13 ( 207877 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:14PM (#3094956)

    If you are serious about thin (e.g "diskless") clients, take a look at bpbatch. It an interesting diskless boot loader. []

    BpBatch is a versatile remote-boot processor, that can be downloaded for free from the Web. It can perform a large variety of actions on a computer at boot-time, before any operating system operation has started. Actions performed by BpBatch ranges from partitioning hard disk to authenticating users, including a graphical interface. The main feature of BpBatch is the partition cloning facility, which let you create an image of a computer's hard disk partition and then distribute and install this image on a cluster of PC.

  • If you are looking for a computer lab that CS studnts can use, go with standard X-Windows dumb-terminals. They have nice big screens and nothing small enough or useful enough that anybody would want to steal.

    If you are thinking you want a lab for writing/printing papers and surfing the internet, then go CHEAP. A PII 400 can run Win2k, Word and Mozilla with no problems, and they are mega cheap if you can find them.
  • by mrroot ( 543673 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:15PM (#3094964)
    From my experience working in the computer lab, most of the clients who came in weren't very thin at all. Most of them were fat guys with bad haircuts.
  • Check out Largo, FL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ryanvm ( 247662 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:19PM (#3094993)
    I'd recommend looking at what the City of Largo, Florida [] has done. Mid-summer last year they went live with a pretty big (+400) Linux/thin-client based system.

    It's been detailed by all the Linux rags (including Slashdot). Last I heard Citrix and Microsoft paid them a (friendly) visit, but they're still running Linux.
  • Best of both worlds (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:24PM (#3095056)
    The trick is to balance cost of hardware/software of server/client with the flexibility of upgrading hardware/software on the server end, yet keep performance high, and security in mind.

    So, If i was doing this, this is how i would approach it:

    1. you have to keep the cost of the thin clients under $250... thats without monitor. These need to be small, dependable, and easlily replaced. In other words, you should be able to walk into someones office, and unplug it, and plug in a new one, and they should be ready to go in under a min. if you have to do lots of configuration on the client side to get things working, then get a better thin client from another vendor. Make sure the thin client comes with something like a san disk or something you can overwrite. What you want to be able to do is run a *nix on it that can do remote X connections, or do rdp connections. forget about getting in bed with citrix, its way too much money, and you really dont get that much back. unless you use all the whiz bang features, and have lots of time to learn how to tie it all together.

    2. Use a combination of windows terminal servers and *nix terminal servers. By default you want people to use the *nix servers, but their will be some folks who want or need to use windows apps, and letting them be able to do so, is a good thing. You can use rdesktop to let the thin client connect to the windows terminal server. it is a little slower than the native windows rdp client, or the citrix ica client, however its free, and it runs on *nixes. If you had to use the windows rdp client it would cost you a windows ce license at least, and to get the citrix client you would have to spring for the whole citrix package which gets expensive.

    3. Get solid dual proc servers with as much ram as they can hold! dont skimp! get fast scsi drives, and try to squeeze it into a small footprint. If you can use the same hardware for both the *nix and windows terminal servers, that will be a plus, since you can shuffle them around incase of failure, or more demand for one kind than another.

    4. cookie cut the systems. in other words, have it designed that you can get another server up and configured in under an hour. this way, incase you need to scale quickly, or have massive hardware failure, you have a system that can be brought back online asap.

    5. stress test the hell out of your design before you go into production. nothing will be worse than realising down the road that you have a design flaw, and you have to scrap and rebuild stuff. that will piss the users off, your boss off, and probably get you fired. tune for performance, and plan to scale. it doesnt matter if you only have 500 users right now, if your design isnt good enough to scale up to 5000, or even 50000, go back to the drawing board and see where your bottleneck is. Why? cause that bottleneck may come back to bite you one day.

  • Go with Win2k and MS Terminal Services. It's much faster than Citrix and, in my opinion, less complicated.

    Since it's for educational purposes, you'll get a great price and you'll probably get the Windows source code if you ask for it.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    My wife was a regional sales rep for Citrix for several years. Citrix is good stuff with real benefits as described previously *if* your apps are not graphics/cpu intensive (i.e. MS
    Word/Excel good; GIS mapping bad).

    Also, Citrix themselves will not install/setup the installation; all of that is handled by the reseller. It is the quality of the reseller that almost completely determines the quality of the installation. Most good resellers will setup for you a 30-day demo with the apps you specify to give you the opportunity to evaluate whether or not your particular apps/usage is a good fit. Furthermore most good resellers are also proficient in both Citrix, RDP and other thin client setups.

    My advice is to first do your background research on the reseller, remember there are many successfull thin-client deployement, but your particular reseller may not have done any! If your reseller is not open, talk to the Citrix rep-they should point your to one of there "platinum" level resellers.

    Further- do not try to do the thin-client setup yourself whatever implementation you decide (citrix, rdp, linux, blah). Hire someone with experience.

    Some clarifications:

    * Citrix was founded by a group of very pro-unix folks. Their first software package was WinFrame which was actually a hacked version of WinNT 3.x. that added simulateous multi-user capabilities and the ICA protocol for remote sessions.

    * Microsoft bought the multi-user extensions from Citrix and incorporated them into Win2K. This left Citrix with just the need for a simpler application to maintain which managed remote sessions over ICA- this is Metaframe and runs on top of Win2K Server.

    * RDP is a lame ICA-workalike. RDP is not ICA. ICA does not run on RDP.

    Also in the interest of full disclosure:

    - My wife has been employed by both Microsoft and Citrix.

    - My company (and myself) use citrix on a regular basis, in addition to Win2K.

    - I develop software on Win2k and Solaris

    - I believe everyone should be running MacOS X.

  • Checkout
    They have a Linux/Solaris based storage virtualization product that would enable you to build fat but diskless clients. For Windows and Linux/Unix clients use a Fibre Channel or iSCSI card in the clients, and boot off a remote disk as if it were a locally attached SCSI drive. Linux/Unix clients can also be booted the old fashioned way (netboot, etherboot, etc) but why go through the trouble?

    You get all the benefits of having local disks in the clients plus centralized backup and management like you get with thin clients. Example: Some user blew away his whole drive while playing with fdisk? At the central server just restore a recent backup, or copy over a standard disk image, and tell the user to reboot.

    I've been using it for a while now and one cool feature is the ability to virtually swap boot "disks" for my machines where I used to physically swap boot disks mounted in removable carriers. I am also using it to share a single tape drive among 5 servers, using their SCSI over Ethernet implementation. It's almost like NAT sharing for SCSI devices.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    We've been running thin and ultrathin client for both scientists, administrators and computer labs for a few years now. Though bumpy at times, it's been a great ride.

    The thin clients are computers that are both rugged, relatively tamper- and theft-proff as well as inexpensive: iMacs. Starting early 1999, we've netbooted a little over a hundred of them using a few G3 servers, each with five 100Mbit interfaces serving an equal number of (relatively) small subnets. Additionally to netbooting, they also managed the personalization of the user environment, restoring user preferences upon login, and storing them upon logout. User files live on fileservers, that are mounted automatically upon login. Finally, transparently available (Unix) compute servers and - for the rare cases in which there's no other way - application hosting for legacy Windos applications using HOBlink, Citrix, rdesktop, VNC (or whatever) is available.

    There's zero software-maintenance per desktop. Zero. Additionally, reliability is high and reproducability is absolute: there can be no difference between desktops, period. So system administration can focus on important things instead of wasting time on per-desktop troubleshooting, restoration, maintenance procedures and so on. Software installation is centralized, and a rigourous quality testing strategy can be enforced.

    For those traditionally stuck in X11, it's provided by ultrathin Sun Ray clients. Absolutely silent, zero maintenance, excellent performance and absolute reliability. Of course, you need to devote Quality Time[tm] to create a Unix environment that's complete, and of recognizable higher quality than users get by performing well-meant tinkering on a local file system. If you do, that maintenance nightmare is gone too

    It pays. With very little manpower, you can not only keep things running smoothly: all time is spent on improving and staying abreast of developments.

    Boxes are cheap. Maintenance is expensive. Troubleshooting is expensive. Lack of a consistent quality is expensive. The time users waste trying create a working, fully functional environment for themselves and maintaining it is an expensive loss. Invest a little, gain a lot!

    That being said, anyone's free to silently (and not very visibly) spend huge amounts of resources on per-desktop maintenance, whether by admins or by users themselves. I know I wouldn't, ever again.

  • by 0xA ( 71424 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @07:54PM (#3095269)
    I run a Citrix environment for a small company (~100 ppl). I've been doing it for about 8 months and I love it. It took me a while to get my head wrapped around the concepts but once you get the hang of it it's nice.

    Citrix is expensive, you need Citrix server licences, Citrix Connection Licences, Win2k server licences, Win2k CALs and Win2k Terminal Services CALs. Not cheap, I firgure I've spent about $600 CD per user on these alone. In the end this will save you money on admin time and headaches. The upfront costs are scary but the TCO is lower.

    Thin clients are cool. I use NCD ThinStars []and I'm pretty happy with them. They run WinCE, have all the client software built in for Citrix and MS RDP, they remind me so much of the HP X term I used way back when I can't belive it sometimes. Keep in mind you won't have any removable media though.

    The thing you have to do before even considering this is audit your software requirements. If you want to setup general use labs with Office and IE, you'll be fine. For a CS lab or an Eng lab where you have stuff like compilers and Matlab installed it just isn't gonna work.

    Don't go cheap on the servers, when they go down you are hooped. Of the current bunch out there I like the Compaqs the best, figure on dual proc P3s (Xeons are overkill for this) with 1 to 2 GB RAM and RAID 1 or 5. The boost you get from having a RAID adapter with a big cache is huge when compared to a SCSI system. This server will handle out 25 or 30 people depending on thier usage.

    If your software requirements are compatable with the concept I think you should really take a look at it. TCO is much lower, if Office breaks you have to fix it on a few servers, IE uber patches installed a few times, much easier than 100 desktops, belive me. I have two friends that started out with me in the same company 8 years ago and now we are all Citrix admins in different places. All of us have the same opinion, if you have to run a Windows network, this is the way to do it. One of them is the admin for a Citrix reference client.

    The only warning I have for you is to be damn careful about the software you deploy. When you have a shared sytem anything can drop the whole boat for you. Be damn careful of HP printer drivers some of the LaserJet drivers will crash you, all of the Deskjet drivers will cause you problems.

    Check out these sites for info: [] []
    And read these books:
    Windows NT/2000 Thin Client Solutions []
    Citrix: MetaFrame for Windows Terminal Services: The Official Guide []

    If you have any other questions feel free to email me : electric-monk(at)

    • Howdy,

      I admin for a company that does management for Medical Offices. We have several offices that run windows 2000 server with Terminal Services loaded. I have been very very happy with these sites.

      We also have several sites that are running in a pure Windows 2000 network environment. (All Win2K CLient workstations, and servers.. nothing else) Either option is pretty close to the same cost. We use ternimal services in offices that have a lot of semi-decent hardware onsite or are planning on purchasing new computers. If a site has a bunch of skanky hardware sitting around then Terminal Server is the way to go.

      Rememeber to audit your software before you consider this. EVERY SINGLE APPLICATION you want to use has to work under Terminal Services to get this to work. I built a server and test drove all my apps before I bid out the server. Lots and lots or RAM is a MUST to do Terminal Services, and I have two processors and RAID 5 in all my servers (Compaq Proliants).

      The other great thing about Terminal Services is remote Administration. You get a free terminal access license with every Windows2000 server license for administrative purposes. I have a WAN link to all my servers and I can do 90% of my admin tasks from my office.... no more onsite.

      I doubt a thin client option will be any cheaper unless you have a ton of skanky boxen with about 128MB of RAM and decent video cards, but TCO is borderline.

      Stay away from Citrix unless you need its expanded capabilites (X-tra clients, some better mapping (serial ports and such), and some better file system stuff). Citrix is a buggy add-on that can be very expensive very quickly. For MS Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook and most basic Apps, Windows Terminal Services is probably adequate. Watch for License issues, we use an SCO terminal access client for accessing our SCO based Practice Management System that is a bit funky in the way it is licensed on a Terminal Server.

      Good luck and if you want to see my whitepaper and TCO comparisons (3 2000 Sites) (3 Terminal Server Sites) with 18 months of installed base time, drop me an e-mail!

  • I know that this is off topic, but it is important.

    Why are we getting education cuts? What did we hear from the politicians the last election year? MORE MONEY FOR EDUCATION!!!! So, where is it?

    The politicians must have forgotten about the people that voted for them. I know that there has been a recession. So what? It only lasts a year or so.

    In the future, they will probably give more money, but that will only get us back to where we were before the recession. As a college instructor I can't help but feel betrayed.

    I'm not talking about pay raises either. I'm talking about money for programs, buildings, technology...

    I hope people wake up soon and realize that our schools are being robbed blind of money they desperately need.
  • This article compares estimated costs of implementing a lab full of PCs (running Windows) vs a lab full of Sun thin clients (SunRays):

    This one relates the story of a government's thin client deployment in the state of florida:
    [] /1 441239

    I happen to be an administrator of a SunRay network, and can offer the following advice: if you decide to go with thin clients, don't cut any corners on your networking hardware. Get gigE, and quality switches. You want as much bandwidth as possible going into your server. A couple of users streaming video will cause everyone's thin-client workstation to slow down considerably, unless your pipes are wide enough to handle it.


  • If you are talking about thin clients to Windows servers, they don't work out economically: between the Windows licenses, the licenses for the client software, and the hassle of setting it all up and maintaining it, you end up paying more than if you had just bought new Windows machines, and you get pretty limited performance for each user anyway. Thin clients for Windows machines are something for corporate environments where the administrator wants control and centralization and can afford to pay a premium for the thin clients.

    However, if you are talking about think clients to a Linux or UNIX server, that makes a lot of sense. You pay nothing extra on either the client or the server, it's trivial to set up and administer, and it works really well.

    If you really want client access to Windows, at least consider getting the NIC []; for $200, you get a devices that does Citrix ICA, X11, ssh, VNC, web browsing, and telnet out of the box. The reviews claim that they are easy to set up and upgrade (just pop in a new CD), and with that, you only need to worry about the server side for Windows.

  • Thin clients can be a wonderful tool but a classroom often violates a basic working assumption: that people won't all whomp on the server and network at the exact same moment.

    Consider: 20 students, 1 server. The instructor says: All right, let's all open Autocad (or some other heavyweight app with big datasets) now.

    Depending how the lab is used this may not be an issue. Teacher awareness can mitigate the problem somewhat.

  • From Experience.. (Score:2, Informative)

    by pini0n ( 84136 )
    I've been working with Citrix almost non-stop for the last two years and we've done some recent implementations (up to 1000 users) in the education sector.

    First, Citrix is a great product, but the costs don't justify unless you're using it fully. Citrix's new server product called MetaFrame XP comes in three different flavors: XPs, for a single server implementation, XPa, for a load balanced environment, and XPe, the load balanced environment with all the bells and whistles.

    Costs that are required are as such:

    1. You're going to have to have Windows 2000 Client Access Licenses for everyone that will hit the Windows 2000 server[s] running Terminal Services.

    2. You're going to have to have Windows 2000 Terminal Server Client Access Licneses for every box that will hit the Windows 2000 server[s] running Terminal Services. Keep in mind, though, that a Windows 2000 Professional PC comes with a TS CAL. So, no need to purchase a TS CAL for any Windows 2000 Professional PC that will connect.

    3. You're going to have to buy Connection Licenses for each /concurrent/ connection for Citrix. Meaning, if you're going to have 500 users in your Citrix environment, but only 40 connected at any given time, you only need to purchase 40 Citrix Connection Licenses.

    4. If you purchase your Citrix Licenses with Subscription Advantage, which allows you free Feature Release upgrades, there's an additional cost per license.

    Euducation environments get price breaks on their licenses, so, its not as bad as it could be.

    If you're looking for a locked-down environment, with some manageability, look at Windows 2000 with Terminal Services instead of adding Citrix. With Windows 2000 Group Policy's you can lock down virtual desktop sessions really well and provide that secure, load balanced thin-client solution. You can find some thin-client linux based devices for under $300. Check out the following for a nice device with RDP built in:

    Power consumption is another factor not looked at by many. Gartner did a study that found, on average, thin clients to consume up to 7x less power per PC. This comes at quite a savings if you factor in all the PCs in your environment during the year.

    One last thing to help you figure out cost savings. Citrix has a tool you can use to get some rough numbers to view projected savings. Check out the following link to the ACE Cost Analyzer:

    Citrix products are used in 99% of the Fortune 100 and 90% of the Fortune 500. The product works, and works well, when someone knowledgeable can help out with the solution. Im not saying that the product is perfect, but many problems (such as printing, etc) can be avoided or minimized with help.

    Good luck,

  • Clearly, the idea of being able to add an extra few years to the lives of our lab PCs is very attractive...
    Just buy a really nice computer right before the SSSCA is signed into law. It will be state of the art technology for the next fifty years!
  • Back several years ago we tried to rollout an NC thin client test at a single lab to see how well it worked...

    it was a nightmare. The machines ran WinCenter over an NT server with a beefy spec. for that time. However, over time only 4-5 clients could stay up a full day b/c of huge swap disk and stability issues with NT. It's not worth it unless you can make your server 99.99% as others have said... also we had to retrian staff to wait on server to be fixed and to call once a day to get other staff out to reboot/purge tmp disk buffers in our case. Heh, putting servers in local closets in test rollouts help ensure bad systems stay out. No one likes walking out to a fucking NT box to kick it on the hour. ;)
  • Last Year we had an IT Conference at the IBM Conference Center in Palisades NY. Great place, thin clients in the halls and all the hotel rooms.

    Trick is, the room thin clients were set up differently than those in the halls. In the room, it was all rigged into a centrally managed Cirtix server, while the halls were diskless internet clients (with possibly more RAM).

    When I'd call up web pages using FLASH, like , the sucky performance of Citrix was glaringly obvious. You'd be lucky to get about one frame per second.

    Sneaking out into the hallway, I could view the animations in all their smoothness and highspeed glory. Still thin, but the native performance was spectacular by contrast.

    Citrix performance isn't quite as speedy as X Window throughput. The LTSP yields better results and sound.
  • We're using WTS, and for what we do, it works great, but we're not supporting nearly as many clients as you are. WTS is essentially Citrix, lacking some features Citrix has.

    If you're going to go that direction, you're going to need a number of servers with LOTS of memory. As someone else mentioned, it can be dead-slow. You really need powerful servers. I would imagine a P3-1GHZ with 1-2GB RAM, for every 15-20 concurrent users, minimum. Even then, you're going to see fairly mediocre performance.

    As for administration, frankly, you'd probably be as well off with thick clients. The administration of WTS or Citrix can be about as difficult per client.
  • Paul Murphy has done a number of case studies on using Unix as a thin client, and the cost comparison between this and client/server windows. I've found these articles to be excellent. The case study that you might want to look at is here []

    He has a whole series of really great case studies here [].

  • Sure, you *can* get 25-30 people per dual-CPU server. But if you have any apps that use any CPU at all, costs start to go up fast because you get a lot less bang per buck CPU-wise out of the kind of reliable servers you need to delivey the availability a Citrix / thin approach requires on the server side.

    Keep in mind that modern versions of Office fall into that "apps that use CPU" category. With the numbers you have, you should be able to get a VAR to cough up some eval equipement- run a beta test before you buy to get some real-life experience with what your users need to run.
  • There's no reason to use thin clients anymore, unless you already have a multiuser host that's going to waste or you can afford to buy 1 to 3 EXPENSIVE, high-power servers every few years to keep the performance of the back-end up.

    PCs are cheap. Software can automate all the administration issues of caring for dozens to hundred of seats. A lot of the software is free. Managed PCs are much cheaper, and if you aggressively audit and prune the files installed on them (i.e. delete all the files that aren't absolutely required to use the PC's applications) then the file system becomes very light and you'll be surprise how much faster the PC performs. (O'Reily has a good book on Optimizing Windows 95 for Games -- ignore the title, rip off the cover if you have to bring it to work -- it has the info you need)

    Look at revrdist for Macs and PCRDist for Windows. They automatically syncronize all the files and registry entries of the client to a master image (with rule sets for exceptions/iterations). You could hack something similiar together with boot floppies or rebooting the PC off the network (password protect the BIOS) and reimage the hard drive from scripts on a file server. I ran across a page on the net about someone who already did this with a linux file server, but the

    Also look at for UNIX-only take on the same idea as revrdist.

    Once you do this, you get the best of both worlds: the zero-administration of thin clients and the local performance of fat clients. This also places a minimal load on your file servers (except when you reimage the whole lab!) because you can easily cache all the apps, files, and libs students will need on the local disk.

    It's common knowledge modern OSes are complete bloatware. It's not common knowledge that you can par down the OS and apps to a bare minimum of files using an imaging file server. On a standalone PC, if you remove too many files, you can paint yourself into a corner that requires a reinstall or rescue disk/floppy to fix. With an imaging server, you can experiment by moving files out of their directories on the server, rebooting the client, and then running a few experiments or scripts to verify it all works. If it doesn't, put the files back and reboot the client again until you figure it out.

    Thin Clients are hip because they're easy to sell. You can't really sell the above methodology in a shrink-wrapped box -- you have to hire and pay somebody knowledgable to do it, which makes it a hard-sell of a panacea.

  • by jsse ( 254124 ) on Friday March 01, 2002 @10:09PM (#3095869) Homepage Journal
    I'm sure the orginal poster is expecting answers like "Linux is the way" when raising such question in /.? :)

    As we can see the major problems lie in the budget cut. I've been working for University and we all face the problem of huge budget being spent on licence fees on every single client.

    Most software vendor like Microsoft and Symantec charge per seat/per user license, thin client could save the amount spent on hardware, which is a fixed cost and very marginal. The recurrent cost spent on license fee takes a big part of the budget.

    What I want to say is, thin client is not the answer to budget problem. If they really have the will to solve the problem then do not buy more license then necessary. Seeking the relative low cost alternatives(I don't need to give examples do I? :)

    It's hard, consider the expected opposition from non-technical department like Marketing and Business school(while I could easily get CS students use OpenOffice, even LateX!). Limited access to software with 'per seat/user license' is a recommendation. Just like AutoCAD, only those who really need it shall have access to this software.

    Say, OK, you Business students can have access to Microsoft Word, but the license fees spent will be charged to your department; just like CS pays for C++, Accounting pays for DacEasy, fair enough.

    However, reality is reality, those lazy dinosaur in U would rather spending more money then doing things in different way. Oh well...
  • Here's how to do it (Score:2, Informative)

    by frinky525 ( 210472 )
    I've set up a thin client network in a lab environment and have learned a few things about how to make it work:

    1. Start off with the CDs - use the installation as a reference for setting up DHCP, TFTP, and other services on your own later.

    2. Once you're comfortable with that, try a regular distro with the LTSP packages. They really are easy to install and require only minor tweaking to run properly.

    3. I've had terrific success with old Dell Optiplex desktops, you can buy them on eBay all day long for under $100. The ones I use are P166 w/ 32MB ram, 2MB onboard video (enough for 16 bit 1024x768) and 3com 905 or Intel Pro/100 network cards. Unplug the HD and CDROM, you don't need them and the PC is virtually silent without them. Make a boot floppy from the rom-o-matic website and away you go.

    4. Don't skimp and use 10Mb networking, spend a few extra bucks and get 100Mb switches. Not for the throughput, but rather the reduced latency. Not a huge difference, but when you figure that every pixel update, every mouse twitch, and every keystroke has to traverse the network the latency is noticable.

    Once you see how incredibly easy a thin client network is to setup and manage, you'll never go back to fat workstations. Have fun!
  • I was a real big fan of Citrix 4-5 years ago until Microsoft got ahold of them, dolled them up in "Ho" garb, and sold them as a "Microsoft" solution (i.e. Terminal Server).

    Go the VNC route. You (and your pocketbook) won't be sorry!

  • Ohlone College is in the first semester of implementation of a thin client network. Were using Sun Ray thin clients connect via Tarantella to MS-Terminal Servers on the back-end. Authentication is accomplished via LDAP. The real problem we've encountered has been with the MS-Terminal Servers. In an open lab environment we've work from the assumption that the user will treat the servers in hostile fashion, which on occasion proves true. Through the group policies we can lock down the desktops well enough for most curriculums. But for computer science for the students to accomplish their work the must have a good deal of access to the systems. In this situation we find were currently rebuilding Computer Science Terminal Server system load weekly. This is a huge pain. Other considerations are licensing of software. We found we had to implement a key-server to stay legal with many of applications running on the terminal servers. As far as Citrix Vs. Tarantella about the only thing that Citrix will get you that Tarantella wont is audio. Tarantella will hopefully be adding audio support soon. Considering the difference in price Citrix didn't offer that much more.
  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Saturday March 02, 2002 @12:50AM (#3096412) Journal
    I work for a company that uses Citrix Metaframe and Windows 2000 terminal server, as well as a mix of PCs and thin clients.

    So far, I've come to a few conclusions.

    1. Be *very* cautious about deciding to serve an entire Windows desktop to the clients. There are unbelievable security/configuration headaches you'll encounter as time goes on. (Basically, what happens is a user can install a program while using the Citrix desktop. Even if he/she doesn't have the administrator rights that are required to succeed in installing the application to the Citrix server, it can still end up writing some changes to the system registry before it fails.) We've seen things like .GIF and .JPG files suddenly becoming associated with a shareware package (like LView Pro), which isn't even installed on our Citrix servers. Then, nobody can view the images by double-clicking on them in Windows Explorer until we change it back again.

    2. Internet Explorer (or any web browser, for that matter) runs very poorly when served through a Citrix ICA session. It will work pretty well viewing a static HTML page, but things like Shockwave and Flash video will clobber the Citrix server's CPU and update very sluggishly on the client's system that's viewing it. Unfortunately, if you try getting around this by letting users run a locally installed browser instead, you can't easily handle things like their own personal sets of bookmarks/shortcuts, or cookies.

    3. As others have already pointed out here, printing from inside Citrix is troublesome. We've had issues with print notifications going to the wrong user (never did get a decent explanation from Citrix on why this happens out the blue, every so often). More importantly, some printer drivers just refuse to work properly in a Citrix environment.

    4. Avoid thin clients that come with "embedded NT" (NTE)! That's all we're using right now for thin clients (Netier XL1000 and XL2000's), and they're bad news. They take a LONG time to boot up, and they're too much like using a full-blown PC, minus the hard drive and cooling fans. Since they do still need the special "embedded" version of the OS, you have to pay the manufacturer's inflated prices to make you new OS images when you want to upgrade them. (They told me just to switch to embedded Linux on our Netiers, it would probably cost in the ballpark of $2000-2500 to have Wyse engineering work up a custom master image for us.) Then too, the "management software" they provide for most thins is less than stellar. At best, you get the exact same functionality you'd get using something like the latest verison of Symantec Ghost on your PCs (with the new Ghost Console). More often, you get a buggy system manager that requires learning yet another proprietary scripting language to push software updates to your thin clients.

The rich get rich, and the poor get poorer. The haves get more, the have-nots die.