Click here to close now.




















Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Automic Blog, Mike Kavis, SmartBear Blog, Pat Romanski, AppDynamics Blog

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linux Thin Clients Do the Job

For the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Linux makes life easier

When the North Carolina Cooperative Extension needed to overhaul the computer system for 1,200 users in multiple remote locations, systems programmer administrator Janyne Kizer found that Linux on thin clients was the best solution.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension is a joint effort between the state of North Carolina, most of the state's 100 counties, and NC State University. Each participating county has an office that accesses the system, which serves a network of agricultural support staff. 4-H agents, state agricultural agents, plant pathologists, etymologists, and other staff make use of the network to assist farmers with agricultural management. Ninety servers are spread around the state to support 1,200 users, with some as far as six hours from the IT support staff's location.

From Solaris to Problems with a Windows Test Deployment

The decision to use thin clients had been made long ago, since the Extension had been using Solaris on thin clients from NCD. When it was time for a large-scale upgrade, the original plan was to switch to Windows terminal servers. But to make Windows terminal servers work, many of the workstations would have to be upgraded, making the move more costly than expected. The team started the process anyway, and set up 10 Windows servers as a pilot.

The servers were set up to synchronize their Active Directory settings, but problems were encountered. Many of the counties still had low-bandwidth connections, and because the servers had trouble synchronizing under those conditions, there were some days when some users couldn't log in at all. Eventually, it became clear that a Windows deployment wouldn't work within the limitations of the available network speed and current number of IT staff. The team found that the network infrastructure simply wasn't adequate to support Windows terminal servers. With state and local government budget constraints, upgrading the networking wasn't an option. According to Rhonda Conlon, director of Extension Information Technology at NCSU, the network cost alone to upgrade to T-1 speeds would have been nearly $65,000 per month. So when the team turned to Linux, it wasn't primarily because of the cost savings of software licensing. They were simply looking for a solution that would work within their existing environment so they wouldn't have to upgrade the network.

Linux Thin Clients Did the Job

With Unix experience, it was natural to turn to Linux. Kizer and her staff decided to test Linux terminal servers on the existing thin-client systems. If it worked, then they would deploy Linux for the whole system. They chose Red Hat from a short list of about three distributions. One factor was that Red Hat was based in their home state, and they liked the idea of using a North Carolina company. There was also a campus computing environment at NCSU already using Red Hat, and they wanted to take advantage of existing expertise.

They put together the basic applications that users would need, then put out some beta test servers. They had the first site up within six weeks. Next, they installed Linux servers at five sites. Everything worked just as they needed, so they deployed a total of 90 servers to complete the overhaul.

The thin-client hardware, some of it seven years old, was easily reused with minor memory upgrades. Red Hat was chosen as the distribution provider, along with StarOffice, BlueFish (HTML editor), GAIM (AOL-compatible instant messenger client), Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail, the Netit text editor, and GIMP (a Photoshop-like program).

Kizer tried to maintain continuity wherever possible, so as not to change everything all at once. Users were already familiar with Netscape browsing and e-mail, for example, so going to Mozilla was easy for them. The Extension purchased a support contract for StarOffice.

Kizer said, "We are a very small department, with one system administrator, two support people, and two part-time undergraduates working the help desk. We are able to handle 90 remote servers and 1,200 users. We would have needed many more people to handle a Windows deployment, but we couldn't hire people because of budget constraints. Linux solved a lot of problems for us."

As Conlon says, "We were willing to spend the money on Windows, but we couldn't make it work with the network infrastructure. When we factored in other things such as additional support costs, hardware upgrades, etc., then it was clear that we needed to go with Linux." In the end, the North Carolina Cooperative Extension enjoyed significant savings. Conlon's estimate of the initial license savings is about $368,000. The ongoing license savings is about $150,000 per year.

User Acceptance

User acceptance has been a bit of an issue, but Kizer believes some of it is simply the resistance to change that is common in government environments. "A user recently got upset that a file he created at home in Microsoft Word wouldn't open in StarOffice. When we looked at it, we found that it wouldn't open in Word, either. Because the software was new to him, he was quick to blame StarOffice, when the problem was really a corrupt file." She has found that users will sometimes complain in a general way about their new systems, but when asked what work-related tasks they are unable to do, they don't have specific complaints.

End users receive training from their local office technology liaison and from several trainers employed by the state. The IT staff gave a series of train-the-trainer sessions, and the training staff did the rest. The local technology liaisons also help users with issues. None of the IT staff has received any formal training in Linux.

Support Issues

The only real problem uncovered after deployment of the new system was solved in house. When some remote sites ran into problems printing from an envelope feed, Kizer uncovered the source of the problem as an incomplete printer driver. Her team solved the problem themselves by fixing the driver, and submitted it the Linux community. You don't have to be an expert Linux kernel hacker to improve the operating system. With access to the source code, you can make changes to meet your requirements, and bug fixes will benefit the community at large.

The free support has been the best available for Kizer's team, but they have also purchased support from more than one open source vendor. Her strategy in keeping current on technical issues is to read technical books and magazines, and become active on the local Linux User Groups lists. Kizer is lucky to have two groups nearby with plenty of expertise - NC State has one on-campus, and there is also a very active group nearby in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

'My Life Is Easier Now'

Kizer's advice to other technical managers thinking of migrating to a Linux thin-client solution is to go ahead and do it if you can. "It just makes your life a lot easier. It's super easy to support, with great disaster recovery. When we started this project, we typically had an average of 100 problem tickets open at any given time. Now that we have made the switch, we have under 25 open tickets at any given time. We probably spend as much time supporting the 100 on-site Windows users as we do the 1,200 offsite users. The system is very stable."

Open Source Software Utilized
The North Carolina Cooperative Extension provides Linux desktops on diskless thin-client hardware with all the office basics for 1,200 remote users scattered around the state.

Open source products used are:

  • Red Hat Linux on diskless workstations
  • Mozilla for Web browsing and e-mail
  • StarOffice
  • BlueFish for HTML creation
  • GAIM for instant messaging
  • GIMP for image editing
  • Netit for basic HTML editing in plain text

More Stories By Maria Winslow

Maria Winslow is the author of The Practical Manager's Guide to Open Source, available at http://www.lulu.com/practicalGuide and can be contacted at [email protected]

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@ThingsExpo Stories
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
For IoT to grow as quickly as analyst firms’ project, a lot is going to fall on developers to quickly bring applications to market. But the lack of a standard development platform threatens to slow growth and make application development more time consuming and costly, much like we’ve seen in the mobile space. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Mike Weiner, Product Manager of the Omega DevCloud with KORE Telematics Inc., discussed the evolving requirements for developers as IoT matures and conducted a live demonstration of how quickly application development can happen when the need to comply wit...
The Internet of Everything (IoE) brings together people, process, data and things to make networked connections more relevant and valuable than ever before – transforming information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom. IoE creates new capabilities, richer experiences, and unprecedented opportunities to improve business and government operations, decision making and mission support capabilities.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Architect for the Internet of Things and Intelligent Systems, described how to revolutionize your archit...
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with APIs within the next year.
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Opening Keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, d...
In his keynote at 16th Cloud Expo, Rodney Rogers, CEO of Virtustream, discussed the evolution of the company from inception to its recent acquisition by EMC – including personal insights, lessons learned (and some WTF moments) along the way. Learn how Virtustream’s unique approach of combining the economics and elasticity of the consumer cloud model with proper performance, application automation and security into a platform became a breakout success with enterprise customers and a natural fit for the EMC Federation.
The Internet of Things is not only adding billions of sensors and billions of terabytes to the Internet. It is also forcing a fundamental change in the way we envision Information Technology. For the first time, more data is being created by devices at the edge of the Internet rather than from centralized systems. What does this mean for today's IT professional? In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed this very serious issue of profound change in the industry.
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect their organization.
It is one thing to build single industrial IoT applications, but what will it take to build the Smart Cities and truly society-changing applications of the future? The technology won’t be the problem, it will be the number of parties that need to work together and be aligned in their motivation to succeed. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jason Mondanaro, Director, Product Management at Metanga, discussed how you can plan to cooperate, partner, and form lasting all-star teams to change the world and it starts with business models and monetization strategies.
Converging digital disruptions is creating a major sea change - Cisco calls this the Internet of Everything (IoE). IoE is the network connection of People, Process, Data and Things, fueled by Cloud, Mobile, Social, Analytics and Security, and it represents a $19Trillion value-at-stake over the next 10 years. In her keynote at @ThingsExpo, Manjula Talreja, VP of Cisco Consulting Services, discussed IoE and the enormous opportunities it provides to public and private firms alike. She will share what businesses must do to thrive in the IoE economy, citing examples from several industry sectors.
There will be 150 billion connected devices by 2020. New digital businesses have already disrupted value chains across every industry. APIs are at the center of the digital business. You need to understand what assets you have that can be exposed digitally, what their digital value chain is, and how to create an effective business model around that value chain to compete in this economy. No enterprise can be complacent and not engage in the digital economy. Learn how to be the disruptor and not the disruptee.
Akana has released Envision, an enhanced API analytics platform that helps enterprises mine critical insights across their digital eco-systems, understand their customers and partners and offer value-added personalized services. “In today’s digital economy, data-driven insights are proving to be a key differentiator for businesses. Understanding the data that is being tunneled through their APIs and how it can be used to optimize their business and operations is of paramount importance,” said Alistair Farquharson, CTO of Akana.
Business as usual for IT is evolving into a "Make or Buy" decision on a service-by-service conversation with input from the LOBs. How does your organization move forward with cloud? In his general session at 16th Cloud Expo, Paul Maravei, Regional Sales Manager, Hybrid Cloud and Managed Services at Cisco, discusses how Cisco and its partners offer a market-leading portfolio and ecosystem of cloud infrastructure and application services that allow you to uniquely and securely combine cloud business applications and services across multiple cloud delivery models.
The enterprise market will drive IoT device adoption over the next five years. In his session at @ThingsExpo, John Greenough, an analyst at BI Intelligence, division of Business Insider, analyzed how companies will adopt IoT products and the associated cost of adopting those products. John Greenough is the lead analyst covering the Internet of Things for BI Intelligence- Business Insider’s paid research service. Numerous IoT companies have cited his analysis of the IoT. Prior to joining BI Intelligence, he worked analyzing bank technology for Corporate Insight and The Clearing House Payment...
"Optimal Design is a technology integration and product development firm that specializes in connecting devices to the cloud," stated Joe Wascow, Co-Founder & CMO of Optimal Design, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
SYS-CON Events announced today that CommVault has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. A singular vision – a belief in a better way to address current and future data management needs – guides CommVault in the development of Singular Information Management® solutions for high-performance data protection, universal availability and simplified management of data on complex storage networks. CommVault's exclusive single-platform architecture gives companies unp...
Electric Cloud and Arynga have announced a product integration partnership that will bring Continuous Delivery solutions to the automotive Internet-of-Things (IoT) market. The joint solution will help automotive manufacturers, OEMs and system integrators adopt DevOps automation and Continuous Delivery practices that reduce software build and release cycle times within the complex and specific parameters of embedded and IoT software systems.
"ciqada is a combined platform of hardware modules and server products that lets people take their existing devices or new devices and lets them be accessible over the Internet for their users," noted Geoff Engelstein of ciqada, a division of Mars International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Internet of Things is moving from being a hype to a reality. Experts estimate that internet connected cars will grow to 152 million, while over 100 million internet connected wireless light bulbs and lamps will be operational by 2020. These and many other intriguing statistics highlight the importance of Internet powered devices and how market penetration is going to multiply many times over in the next few years.