Sun Ray (part 1)

I haven’t had the chance to talk much about the Sun Ray project yet but with it’s impending deployment I thought I should give a bit of a Tech Services run down on the desktop side of things. Paul from Core Services has already talked a little about the benefits of the system and I’m sure he will be writing more as the back end systems are deployed so I thought I’d give a bit more information on the client side of things.

Sun Ray is a type of “thin client” system. Thin clients aren’t an especially new idea and the concept dates back to the original text based dumb terminals of the 1980’s. Recently thin client technology has become very popular once again and there are a lot of new products (such as Sun Ray) that are having great success in the corporate world.

The first thing most people ask me in regards to Sun Ray is how it differs from having a computer. Well the immediate answer is “not that much!”. On the surface people who are using a Sun Ray will still have a box on their desk, a screen sat next to it and a keyboard and mouse to control it all. You will still have to login using your Edge Hill ID and password and be presented with a familiar Windows Desktop environment (more on that in a moment..). Microsoft Office is there on the start menu right next to Internet Explorer and all the regular things you would come to expect from your computer. So I’m sure by now you are thinking.. “well.. what’s the big deal then?”.

At first glance there are very few obvious differences for the end user between running on a normal computer or on a thin client device. It’s the subtle differences and lot of things going on in the background that gets the IT geeks amongst us all excited. Let us have a little look at what they are…

We’ll begin with that oh so familiar Windows Desktop, everyone knows that. There is the start menu in the bottom left with all of your applications, your my computer icon on the desktop to get access to all of your drives. But hold on a second.. this isn’t Windows XP (or Vista for that matter!) so what is it? Well if you sat at a Sun Ray then the answer will be Windows 2003 server edition. The desktop you will be seeing is actually running on a server that is sat in our server room (probably in CMIST) you will be connected to it using something called Terminal Services. I’ve heard many different descriptions of what Terminal Services actually is but I find the easiest way to describe it is as follows: If you are using a Sun Ray then you are effectively remote controlling the desktop on the windows server in much the same way as the IT Services helpdesk remote control the staff computers when they are fixing problems.

The difference between connecting to the Terminal Server and our remote control of your desktop is that the server supports multiple simultaneous connections from many different locations. This means that you can have ten, twenty, maybe hundreds of people all remotely connected to one server. Unlike our desktop remote control the sessions are independent and each user has their own remote desktop to control (well it would be a bit difficult with twenty people all fighting for control of the mouse cursor wouldn’t it! The real strength of Terminal Services lies in the processing of the applications you are running. Because you are launching Word or Excel on a powerful server rather than your local computer it has a really impressive performance, even if there are lots of people connected to it! The other obvious benefit of this is that if we need to upgrade to a new version of Office or other new software all we have to do is upgrade that one server and everyone connected to it will get the new package. If we had to visit dozens of individual computers it would take much longer to roll out that upgrade to everyone.

This is only a taster of what is involved with the Sun Ray project and I’ll be writing more as we progress with it. Once we have it all up and running and I have the time I’ll write a walk through of the Sun Ray desktop and explain some more of the differences. Keep an eye on the Core Services blog and I’m sure you will see lots more updates about the server side of the project.