Thin Client


Watts Water Technologies needed to replace 1000 old shop-floor terminals with more flexible desktops. They ended up choosing SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop on Neoware thin client hardwares along with ZENworks to help manage the environment. You can also check out the Open PR blog entry for some info.  From the customer success story…

After evaluating several desktop and thin-client solutions, Watts Water Technologies selected SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop for use in a thin-client deployment, as well as Novell ZENworks to manage more than 1,000 desktops.

“Linux really shines and Novell has a great Linux strategy,” said Ty Muscat, Data Center Manager for Watts Water Technologies. “We have almost every platform imaginable and are moving more and more to SUSE Linux Enterprise desktops and servers. We like having an open platform with a lot of flexibility.”

The results:

“Without Novell, we would have had to invest far more to get anything similar to what we have with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop,” said Muscat. “The ongoing management and maintenance costs of other options would have been overwhelming for us.”

Starting off our new series called Vendor Spotlight is a company that I think is doing some very cool things, ThinFusion Inc. The interview was conducted by phone and included Brandon and Rick Vancleeve

What is ThinFusion?

ThinFusion is the combination of a Linux OS platform running in a thin client environment, while providing access to the majority of Windows-based applications. ThinFusion uses either a thin client OS local, paired to a session on a ThinFusion server, or alternatively allows the use of cross-platform client software to provide secure and very speedy access to the ThinFusion Server session literally from anywhere.

ThinFusion provides a single access point to all the Linux and Windows applications that a user needs. The administrative interface allows for simple drag and drop granting and revoking, in realtime, of access to applications on a group or individual level.

What applications can I run on ThinFusion?

This part is easy…
Since it accesses a Windows Terminal Server for Windows apps you can go to Microsoft’s site and find every supported program out there. You don’t have to go through a giant bug list of “quirks” when running Windows apps in a Linux shell. If it runs in a Terminal Server environment, it runs on ThinFusion.

On the Linux side, since you are in essence just accessing a Linux Desktop you can run all your Linux applications.

Who is ThinFusion Inc?

ThinFusion Inc, is a small company in the Mountains of Montana that have developed ThinFusion to meet the needs of K-12 Schools, Higher Ed, and Small to Medium Businesses. ThinFusion mission statement: Access your classroom from anyplace anytime.

What is a typical customer for ThinFusion?

The typical customer would be a school or business that has a need to control access to applications, reduce administrative and technical support costs and increase the quality of service for its users while maintaining the necessary security and controls.

What is a sample use case of ThinFusion?

A school district with a Laptop lab is an excellent use case for ThinFusion. Typically in this environment the Laptops would be running Windows with most applications installed locally. Often the students are issued the laptops and are responsible for physical security and transport, often including off school property and for all purposes becoming the students main machine for home and school. Such an environment has multiple risks and costs associated with it, including re-imaging regularly due to misconfigurations, virus and spy-ware issues and either malicious or inadvertent deletions and changes to the software.

Particularly if the laptops are issued and kept by the students does the risk of virus infection or inadvertent misconfiguration crop up, the possibility of infection and transport of the viruses and spyware becomes a virtual certainty, with some school environments literally being taken down for periods of time from such infections.

ThinFusion in this environment would remove most or all of the issues discussed. Two choices are possible:

1. Install a very slim Desktop Linux with NX Client software on the student laptop, all application access requires dialup or better Internet access to the ThinFusion Server, thus all applications are run in a very secure and less virus-prone environment.
2. Install Windows or keep the current Desktop OS, adding lockdown software and the NX Client software, requiring dialup or better Internet acccess to the ThinFusion Server etc.

Both of the above examples allow students and staff to securely access their school network just as if they were sitting at a desk in class, from anywhere/anytime. It extends the learning environment beyond the walls of the school, and it allows for collaboration beyond the bus bell. This is the mode that we see businesses transitioning to at record pace, as we see more and more workers using home offices and accessing data through secure remote scenarios.

This environment is effective for students and teachers, with teachers mostly falling into the category of # 2, they having the most need to run 3rd party applications that are typically Windows-based.

What are the support options?

A ThinFusion subscription comes with a full support, training and installation package. Higher levels of support packages are available.

What should you not use ThinFusion for?

ThinFusion is not a great solution for high end multimedia, neither for creation nor viewing. A class of 50 users running a very graphically oriented courseware would be fairly choppy.

How do I learn more about ThinFusion?
Please visit their website (www.thinfusion.com), to experience demonstrations, tutorials, case studies and more. You can also reach them by phone at 1-800-432-0346.

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If you can think of an example of a vendor that is going something you can really appreciate and is good for the community, put a comment in or email me: rbrunson[at]novell.com

Enjoy,

RossB

Pre-eXecution Environment (PXE) is a method of booting computers off of a network card independent of local storage devices such as a hard drive or a DVD. PXE is very useful in thin client environments or as a quick way to deploy a new operating system to any computer. PXE is dependent on several network protocols:

  • IP: A network layer protocol in the Internet Protocol Suite. IP provides the service of communicable unique global addressing amongst computers.
  • UDP: A core of protocol of the Internet Protocol Suit. UDP allows programs to send short messages sometimes know as datagrams.
  • DHCP: A method for networked computers to obtain IP addresses and other necessary networking parameters.
  • TFTP: A simple file transfer protocol that can be implement in a very small amount of memory

Setting up a TFTP server will allow you to easily deploy operating systems to machines without having to boot them from a CD or a DVD. Since most, if not all, laptops have an auto-sensing NICs these days, it is very convenient to setup a TFTP server on your machine. This will allow you to connect your laptop to another machine by a standard Ethernet cable and deploy a new operating system. If your machine doesn’t have an auto-sensing nic you can use a ethernet crossover cable or a switch/hub.

All of the components required for setting up a TFTP server are included in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES). While unsupported, you can install the necessary component packages from SLES on a SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED).

A TFTP server requires the following things:

  • A dhcp server
  • Atftp (I prefer atftp because of advanced features and support for KIWI)
  • An installation source. This can either be an image that you created using KIWI or in the case of this article a SLED DVD or ISO.
  • A method of serving the installation source, in this case Apache.

DHCP. Before a PXE booted machine can do anything it needs to get an an IP address. This means you must setup a DCHP server. Go into the YaST Software Management module and install the “DHCP and DNS Server” pattern. This includes dhcp, dhcp6, dhcp-relay, dhcp-server, dhcp-tools. Next configure your /etc/dhcpd.conf file. Here is what mine looks like:
default-lease-time 14400;
ddns-update-style none;
subnet 192.168.2.0 netmask 255.255.255.0 {
option domain-name-servers 192.168.2.50;
default-lease-time 14400;
filename "pxelinux.0";
next-server 192.168.2.50;
max-lease-time 172800;
range 192.168.2.51 192.168.2.160;
}

The key values for PXE booting are “filename” and “next-server”. Pxelinux.0 is a SYSLINUX derivative, for booting Linux off a network server, using a network ROM conforming to the Intel PXE specification. We will discuss more in a bit. For more information visit here. Next-server defines the ip address of the TFTP boot server. In this case the DHCP server and TFTP server are running on the same machine. Next we will have to configure a static IP address on our machine so that it matches the next-server value. In this example that address is 192.168.2.50 and the subnet mask is 255.255.255.0. To setup a static IP address go into yast and choose the “network card” module. Restart or start your dhcp server by running rcdhcpd start or rcdhcpd restart

ATFP: There isn’t much that needs to be configured beyond the defaults. Here is my /etc/sysconfig/atftpd file:

## Path: Network/FTP/Atftpd
## Description: ATFTP Configuration
## Type: string
## Default: "--daemon "
#
# atftpd options
#
ATFTPD_OPTIONS="--daemon --no-multicast" #I use --no-multicast to increase reliability of blasting down KIWI images, but it is not necessary

## Type: yesno
## Default: no
#
# Use inetd instead of daemon
#
ATFTPD_USE_INETD="no"
## Type: string
## Default: "/tftpboot"
#
# TFTP directory must be a world readable/writable directory.
# By default /tftpboot is assumed.
#
ATFTPD_DIRECTORY="/tftpboot"
## Type: string
## Default: ""
#
# Whitespace seperated list of IP addresses which ATFTPD binds to.
# One instance of the service is started on each IP address.
# By default atftpd will listen on all available IP addresses/interfaces.
#
ATFTPD_BIND_ADDRESSES=""

Note that the default location of of the ATFTP directory is /tftpboot. Start/restart ATFTP by entering atftpd start or atftpd restart

/tftptpboot is the directory where you store all the files necessary for PXE booting a machine. My /tftpboot directory contains the following files and directories:

-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 13148 Jul 11 06:35 pxelinux.0
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Sep 24 16:33 pxelinux.cfg/
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Jul 11 06:36 sled10x86/

Let’s address each of these files and directories individually.

pxelinux.0: We addressed this file previously in the dhcp section. You can get this file from /usr/share/syslinux/pxelinux.0

pxelinux.cfg: This directory contains a file named “default”. Here is the contents of my default file:
prompt 1 #this will bring up a boot prompt on the PXE booted machine and force the user to enter the label of the system they want to boot into. This a a good way to prevent people from accidentally blowing away their computer.
# sled10
label sled10 #enter this label (sled10) into the boot prompt
kernel /sled10x86/linux
append initrd=/sled10x86/initrd install=http://192.168.2.50/install/sled10x86 splash=silent showopts

By utilizing “prompt 1” you can setup several different installation environments (SLES, SLED, openSUSE, SLE ThinClient etc.) To do this add multiple enteries. Each entry should point to the correct initrd, linux and installation source for that system. Each label should be unique.

sled10x86: This directory contains two files:

  • initrd
  • linux

You can get these files off of the SLED or SLES installation dvd in /media/boot/i386/loader/. Simply copy over the initrd and linux files to your /tftpboot/sled10x86 directory.

Installation source: As seen in the /tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg/default file we point to an installation source hosted on the same machine (install=http://192.168.2.50/install/sled10x86 splash=silent showopts)

  • Open up the “installation Server” yast module
  • Choose the appropriate protocol (in this case http)
  • Select a directory where you want to keep your installation source (in this case /install/).
  • Choose an alias for your directory (install)
  • Click Finish
  • Copy over the contents of SLED or SLES iso or dvd to the directory you just specified.
  • Check and make sure you can browse to your source through firefox

At this point you should be able to pxe boot a machine off of your laptop or desktop. Make sure that the machine to be PXE booted supports PXE and has it enabled in the BIOS. Some computers will refer to it as “network boot”. On most machines hitting F12 after powering on will force the machine to PXE boot. After the machine PXE boots enter “sled10” at the boot prompt, hit enter, and then go forward with your installation.

Go Phillies!

As you may have heard, Citrix recently decided to aquire XenSource (more here, here and here) – the commercial front on the Xen virtualization technology in SLES 10. InfoWorld’s David Marshall reviews some interesting perspectives on the Citrix aquisition of XenSource in this audio podcast. He reviews a brief Q&A session with Citrix execs and a blog entry from Barrons.comAs I suspected when I first heard the news, it looks like Citrix’s initial foray into virtualization will be related to the desktop virtualization market. Still, $500M smackers is a pretty steep hill to climb to profitability if you ask me. Maybe I’ll be proven wrong.

Are any of YOU considering a desktop virtualization initiative? Why or why not?

[NOTE – If you listen to podcasts regularly, you know that it’s common practice to have some intro music. When listening to this podcast, just note that the music (annoying as it may be) doesn’t stop. Oh boy! David, if you end up reading this… next time, could… you… please… speak… a… little… faster…? 🙂 ]

Seems that Citrix just announced they will purchase XenSource, the commercial entity formed to make money off of the Xen Virtualization open source project.

I’ve read all I can about it, I just don’t see the “synergies” that are supposed to be there, it just doesn’t make much sense.  Of course Xen is an open source project and the vast majority of development takes place at Novell, other distributions and independent developers, so XenSource’s acquisition may not affect much other than Citrix’s stock price.  Also anyone who has purchased the Xenterprise product (XenSource’s commercial Virtualization Server offering) is probably trying to figure out how to download SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP1, (hint: just click on the link, it’s really easy to set up and run, we know that for a fact).

Should be interesting to watch this one!

RossB

It was only a matter of time before the enterprise Linux desktop market started to get its due credit, IMHO. Note, that while today’s announcement with Lenovo and Novell is related to a PRE-LOAD of Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop has been a certified and supported Linux platform for notebooks and desktops from the major hardware manufacturers for quite a while now…

…and there have even been several lesser-known brands (white box) and other web sites willing to pre-load SLED for you. Read the original October 2006 press release here. What other organizations have I missed (big or small)? Let’s get them all listed here if we can… (ie, post a comment)

Interested in becoming a system builder yourself? Check out the Novell Partner program.

In keeping an eye out for what’s new and happening, I continue to hear more about people using VDI, or Virtual Desktop Infrastructure for various purposes, including security, management of intellectual property, ease of providing access, etc.

I have a number of customers who use VDI for various purposes, but the most prevalent one is to make sure that data does not make it’s way to the actual desktop of the user, in particular programming for financial applications and other situations where the IP can’t get sent over IP, if you know what I mean.

SearchServerVirtualization has a well-done article that explains a lot about Desktop Management challenges and solutions, a good read if you’re still trying to figure out what VDI is all about.

Enjoy,

RossB

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