Sun Ray at West Calder High School

Had an interesting meeting today in West Calder High School in West Lothian.

On way down I remembered that I had left my suit jacket and tie hanging in the hall at home. I managed to pick up a tie from my mother on the way to West Calder and then borrowed a pen from Allan Ryan as I dropped into to meet Graham Donaldson of HMIe.
The meeting at West Calder High School was looking at an implementation of Sun Ray technology being tried out by West Lothian Council in partnership with Sun Microsystems. The model is not new, the processing power is at the server end with only a dumb terminal rather than a computer at the user end. Sun call the user devices ‘virtual display devices’ but they are effectively ultra thin clients.

In my previous post with Dundee Council we tried Citrix thin client devices in business studies departments and eventually had to replace then with PCs . However, technology and the ICT infrastructure in schools move on and it’s important that we keep an open mind on this.
I saw an S4 class running ‘virtualised Windows’ and MS Excel as if they were running from the desktop. For the moment we need to collect more evidence of how Sun Ray works in schools and across local authorites. I am particularly interested in local bandwidth issues and how the Sun Ray server copes with the spikes of activity that characterise school ICT usage.

Sun’s mantra is ‘the network is the computer’ and this resonates very closely with our own view as expressed in Glow v1.0 that the web is the platform of the future. It may be that we are getting close to point where schools can begin to realise some of the long promised environmental, economic, support and sustainability benefits of thin client technology without compromising the quality of the learning experiences of our children and young people. I will keep you posted!

3 Comments

  1. Interesting stuff Laurie. If you or any of your readers are interested in the possibilities of free, open source thin client solutions, it might be worth checking out Skegness Grammar and the Linux Terminal Server Project

  2. Diane Romm

    Piggybacking on what Robert wrote, if you’re interested in a solution that builds on LTSP but is supported by a company, look at diskless thin clients from Symbio Technologies (www.symbio-technologies.com).

    Like the Sun Rays, Symbio’s thin clients are stateless, but unlike Sun’s, they’re not proprietary. Sun’s thin clients work only with Sun’s products, so you’re locked into them. Symbio’s are based on open source, so you’ve got a lot more flexibility.

  3. Bob Prendergast

    Just because a thin client claims to be stateless and lacks local hard disk, doesn’t mean that it is truly stateless.

    The LTSP (and these symbio systems) sends a live kernel and a chrooted nfs filesystem to the thin client. The actual client has to be able to boot its own kernel, and load X. Once X is loaded it hands off to the terminal server, and lets the terminal server send X calls back to the thin client.

    SunRay is managed fully from the backend. Start to finish, a sunray boots in 5-10 seconds. There is no code at all that runs locally. Also, there is no performance difference between sunrays. A 1st generation sunray runs just as fast as a brand new one. Because there is a full management server, user sessions can actually be handed off to other sunrays on the fly.

    That is the major difference between LTSP and SunRay.