The School of Computer Science at the University of Windsor deployed their first network of diskless thin clients in August of 1987. Since then, the CS school has progressed through three operating systems, four thin client devices, and seven Sun server configurations. In the summer of 2011, UWindsor switched from Solaris and Sun Ray clients to Ubuntu and LTSP Thin Clients.
LTSP (the Linux Terminal Server Project) creates a thin client environment over a local area network. LTSP Thin Clients, also known as diskless workstations, receive their operating system from a network server without using local device storage. LTSP is often paired with network based user authentication and management solutions to create a complete computing environment.
At UWindsor, switching to the LTSP thin client solution was driven by the need for an increased variety in applications and developer tools without sacrificing performance. Keys to success included a load balanced and virtualized server operating system as well as the local apps functionality within LTSP. Local apps (applications) utilize client side resources instead of solely relying on the server. This LTSP configuration reduces network traffic and allows demanding applications (e.g. flash or java in the browser) to perform like they are running on a full desktop PC.
Students, faculty, and staff access their desktop environment and files from one of over 100 thin clients spread throughout the school. The LTSP Thin Clients are used to browse the web, write code, and edit documents. CS students have access to the latest essential applications for their curriculum including: Eclipse, LibreOffice, Matlab, Maple, and Programming Languages (LISP, Prolog, Haskell, C++, Java, Miranda).
“The maintenance of LTSP is pretty much zero. Once it was setup, it was very reliable and stable. Adding a new thin client literally takes a few seconds.” – Stephen Karamatos, Systems Analyst
Zero device management, reliability and stability are among the many benefits UWindsor realized by switching to LTSP. By repurposing SunFire servers and a Sun NAS 7410 cluster, the school was able to avoid significant infrastructure upgrade costs. The load balanced and virtualized server operating system provides autonomy and flexibility for system administrators. Additional cost savings are recognized due to no license fees, less time spent on support, and the streamlined maintenance of more than 100 end user devices serving over 1000 users.