Sun Ray Server Cuts Windows Out Of The Pictue

Sun Microsystems's SRSS 3.1 delivers low-cost, reliable, thin-client computing without--gasp--spending a dime on either Windows or Microsoft Office.

Sean Doherty, Contributor

October 4, 2005

3 Min Read

Understanding server-based--aka thin-client--computing is tough. Enterprises don't always comprehend the cost savings associated with thin clients, even when we put it in print (see Total Cost Of Ownership Comparison). Until now our concentration has been on serving up Windows apps on Windows terminals from terminal servers. But with the release of Sun Microsystems' Sun Ray Server Software (SRSS) 3.1, it's time to refocus.

SRSS 3.1 delivers a thin client without Windows. All computing is done on a server--computer I/O is passed between a server running SRSS and Sun Ray Desktop Units (DTUs) over the Sun Ray protocol.

I tested SRSS in our Syracuse University Real-World Labs® and was delighted with the low-bandwidth performance, the Web controls for SRSS and DTUs, and the price (free). I set up SRSS on a Dell Precision 410 running Solaris 10 for Intel.

For this latest version of SRSS, Sun has changed the rendering algorithm in the Sun Ray protocol. When bandwidth is constrained, SRSS uses a more aggressive compression ratio to pass I/O.

An executable shell script installs the software packages, including the main one, SunWut. The install uses the Java Runtime 1.5.0_01 included with Solaris 10. I executed utadm to configure SRSS, identified the network IP number and mask for SRSS, and pegged the Precision as the authentication and firmware server for DTUs.


• Supports Solaris and Linux• Web-based administration• Low-bandwidth support


• Requires Sun Ray DTUs (Desktop Units)• Expensive 17-inch flat-panel DTUs

Sun Ray Server Software 3.1, free. Sun Ray DTUs start at $359. Sun Microsystems, (800) 555-9SUN, (650) 960-1300.

I restarted the SRSS and synchronized the Sun Ray DTU on the Precision. A TFTP server created during the installation let the DTUs connect to the SRSS and upgrade their firmware to 3.1_21, if necessary. When I connected the DTUs to the network and turned them on, they found the Precision, upgraded their firmware, rebooted and came up with a Solaris logon screen. It couldn't have been easier.

Where's the App?

If you need to ask where an app is, you've been looking through a Microsoft Window way too long. From the X Window perspective supplied by the DTU, the apps are included in the StarOffice suite (see "Suite Alternative"). I put a network installation of StarOffice 8 for x86 onto the Precision, so each user logging in had a Microsoft Office-like suite.

I put a Shunra Virtual Enterprise between a DTU and the SRSS server. The Virtual Enterprise emulated a T1 line with 100-ms round-trip delay to simulate an SRSS in a data center and a DTU in a branch office. To add some real-world flair, I used a Spirent Communications Avalanche to create HTTP and FTP traffic over the simulated WAN link while logged into the DTUs.

Using StarOffice, I opened a number of files, including text, spreadsheet and presentation files, that ranged from 16 KB to 3 MB. The files rendered over the T1 in the same amount of time as they did over a 100-Mbps LAN connection. In fact, I continued to receive excellent performance while emulating a broadband connection at 300 Kbps. Degradation didn't occur until I dropped WAN emulation to a leased 56-Kbps line with 100-ms round-trip delay.

SRSS is a thin solution from almost every angle. A headless DTU starts at $359 per unit. Stateless clients mean no moving parts and lower maintenance costs. Add Web-based management, low bandwidth requirements and no-cost server software, and SRSS is very slim indeed.

Sean Doherty is a senior technology editor and lawyer based at our Syracuse University Real-World Labs®. A former project manager and IT engineer at Syracuse University, he helped develop centrally supported applications and storage systems. Write to him at [email protected].

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