Now I am confused with Sun. 10

Thanks to the heated discussion started by Brian Madden on the Sun Rays we could see people I assumed dead writing again and several comments regarding SunRays and how they work, their technology and so on.

Before moving forward note I am no SunRay expert and barely worked with them on some of my customers. Given that, I want to ask people that know these devices a couple questions:

1. Zero Admin client. From what I know these devices talk to a server (the SunRay server) that provides them with a session. If new features are added, for example 5.1 audio, I assume a new firmware is needed on these devices. So how can they be ‘Zero Admin’ if I do need to manage these to deploy a new firmware? And let’s say I deployed the new firmware and found a show stopper bug? I will have to roll back, again, ‘managing’ these. So what do they mean exactly by ‘Zero Admin’? If they mean since 1999 they only released 3 firmwares, awesome to know but this is not ‘Zero Admin’. Could be ‘Almost Zero Admin’ but not zero. And I assume ‘Zero’ has the same meaning here in Canada, in the US, Europe or Mars for that matter. Given that, are they truly ‘Zero Admin’? I do not think so and I do not think such device actually exists as at one point there may be a feature that may require something to be changed on the actual hardware, what would mean changing something on the device or replacing it completely. Plus if a firmware upgrade is needed, this breaks the definition of ‘Zero Administration’. My toaster is ‘Zero Administration’ for sure.

2. Stateless. Sun claims their device has a unique feature that no other vendor offers that is having nothing on their devices once they are powered off. From their own blog, “Sure RDP and Citrix connections are stateless, but the client used to access them is not.  Review Letters of Volatility (LoV) and see what registers get zeroed out on a power reset.  If any information about the network, servers, or users is left over the device is not stateless”. I disagree with this as I think I have the same at home and I do not use SunRays. If a device (in my case, thin client hardware with no moving parts and more than that, NO local OS or even a local device where an OS could be loaded and/or saved) is remote booting a very lean, small OS with the client they need to connect to a backend, once these devices are off, everything is gone. There is no trace on them about the network, servers or users. How is the Sun offering different?

3. Hot Swapping. This means a user on a SunRay removes his smartcard and goes to another device, inserts it back and is working again exactly where he left off. Well this is exactly what Citrix Session Roaming is, correct me if I am wrong. And I was actually working on an environment, 45 days ago, where I did exactly that, with SmartCards and XenApp 5.0 FP2. No SunRays needed. So again, what is unique here about the SunRays?

Please note this post is in no way meant to ‘bash’ the SunRays and their technology. I just want to understand more about them and that is the reason why I am asking these questions. Hopefull someone from Sun will email me answers.

My final question is probably what several people are asking themselves. So even if they really have such a cool, unique product, what is the price tag for it? From what I have found, for example their 17″ all-in-one model (Sun Ray 270) lists at $799.00. Their cheapest offer is the Sun Ray 2 at $349.00. Add to that the software required (and its own licenses at US$ 100.00 per concurrent user, perpetual license) and my guess is this brings us to around at least US$ 500.00 per user to deploy their cheapest thin client offering, not accounting for the costs to have two servers running their software (two for redundancy AND assuming you are not running these as VMs). And as mentioned on the thread at Brian’s site, if you are indeed a Windows shop you will have to deal with at least 2 machines running Linux or Solaris.

Is it worth? As Steve Greenberg pointed out I am sure it is in certain cases and in certain environments it may fit as a glove (again, use the right tool for the job). Would I say it is ‘mainstream’ worth? Considering their market share and penetration after 10 years on the market, at this stage, not. But as we are in a very fast changing landscape, better marketing from Oracle could potentially change that.

Or not?


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10 thoughts on “Now I am confused with Sun.

  • Matthias Pfützner

    1.) Zero admin: You can define in the firmware a firmware server. The Sun Ray (note: it’s TWO words!) can automatically check that, and upgrade the firmware automatically, or on power cycle (Sun Rays even don’t have a power button, to cycle you need to pull the plug!). Or you can push the firmware by a command to any Sun Ray attached to the Sun Ray server. So, OK, close to zero admin, but that’s by definition. The upgrade by power cycle can be seen as zero admin.

    2.) If the firmware would be buggy, just place the old version of the FW onto the FW server under a new number… Then the old FW will be uploaded, because the Sun ray thinks, it’s a newer version…

    3.) And all config info of the Sun Ray can be also placed on the FW or the config server… So, really no hands on needed, if you prepare your infrastructure correctly. How do you think, Sun internally is managing all their Sun Rays world wide on every Employees desk (more then 30000), with only something like 10 such config servers worldwide (OK, might be a bit more, Craig B. should be able to give precise numbers)

    Ad Stateless: Yes, that seems to be the same…

    Ad hot-swap: Sun’s been first here, and it’s not bound to any VDI implementation, so it works for a MS XP session as well as a Linux Desktop as well as a Solaris desktop, as this hot-swapping is an integral part of the protocol, and not an add on feature. So, yes, others do get there… Sun’s there for ten years…

    Price. I’m not in Sales, but we all know, that there are big reductions on Sun’s pricelisted prices…;-)

    My Sun Ray at home (a 2 FS plus the 20.1 TFT monitor close to three years ago) did cost me 871 EUR listprice. Biggest part was the monitor. make the ROI over the years, and the price gets real attractive. In our Sun Office we still use the Sun Ray 1’s, now close to 10 years!

    And, yes, looking at Larry’s eagerness w.r.t. thin clients, after CiC i hope to see way more agrressive ads for Sun VDI!


    • crod

      Ok so:
      1, 2 and 3. As you pointed out then they are not truly zero admin. Plus as an administrator I for sure would have tested the firmware first before allowing the server to automatically push it to the Sun Ray devices. Again this means, at least in my dictionary, that I am doing administration/management of such devices. ‘Almost Zero Admin’, agreed. ‘Zero Admin’, nope, unless Zero means something else in Germany. 🙂

      Stateless: you agree what I posted is exactly the same. So nothing unique here.
      Hot-Swap: First here. Ok. But as you pointed out, others do have that as of today so today I think Sun cannot claim anymore they are the only ones supporting that. Maybe they are the only ones supporting it across several platforms (not sure if Citrix for Unix supports it but I would guess it does) but on Windows they are not alone.

      Price: my solution at home cost me US$ 400 for five devices (monitors extra) and are still running after 7 years. They are stateless and support hot swap. So I got the same for 5 devices for 50% of what you probably paid for one. 🙂

      As you, I do hope to see more competition on this market what will for sure bring better products and solutions to all of us!


  • Matthias Pfützner

    I’m not in Sun’s VDI selling department, nor in Sun’s VDI engineering department…;-) So, I can not talk about why they claim zero-admin.

    Perhaps, the admin task belongs to the infrastructure, and not the device itself (physical touching)? Marketing… i guess.

    And: With the price I did say: “Listprice”. I’m not going to tell you, what I really paid ( 😉 ), or what a real customer would have paid ( 😉 ). But you might know, that Sun is good in making good deals, so that number you mentioned for your home-solution would clearly be outperformed by the Sun’s Sales rep… 😉 That’s a very save bet, I would do… 😉 Just check on ebay, what a Sun Ray 1 or even a Sun Ray 2 do cost today. And, for home usage: All Sun Software is FREE, including VDI3. So, anybody, who wants to create a home VDI solution for private usage, does not need to pay a single buck, he only needs to get a couple Sun Rays from eBay (I’m still curious, where they come from… 😉 )

    Yes, others do get closer to the overall Sun VDI experience, so today it gets more difficult to differentiate. As others do mention on Brian’s blog (where I sadly seem unable to create a login, I simply do not get the first email with the temp-pw to log in once), there are additional benefits, but YMMV, and every customer is evaluating the different solutions, and selects the buest-suited one for his environment. Yes, we do have many CUs (some to be found at:

    I simply do like the real simple “take my smartcard out of the SR at the office, and plug it into my SR at home, and simply continue…” Even, crossing the globe, working in Menlo Park with my session hosted in the Frankfurt office, I do NOT see any performance difference…

    So, I’m a bit biased… 😉


    • crod

      Great comments Matthias! Really appreciated. As I said I would love to give the real Sun Rays a try but Craig put me on his ‘persona non grata’ list and does not even reply to my emails. For the software I will download it and give it a try! Again, thanks for the intelligent, well written comments that make for a good discussion.


  • Matthias Pfützner


    I guess, one of the problems is the different set of software components involved.

    SSGD (ex-tarantella, now Sun Secure Global Desktop)
    Sun Ray Server software
    VirtualBox or VMWare (for session hosting, if you’re not using the Solaris desktop)

    And then the “bundled into a single installer” VDI3 including all of the above and more…

    For Sun Ray alone, you would not need SSGD, nor VMware nor VBox… 😉

    But, I guess, best test today would be to start with VDI 3 on a single server setup, as described in the docs. That could even be setup in a virtual machine, if you have enough hardware for the VM, but might lead to performance problems, as VBox could then no longer use the hardware virtualisation… 😉


  • Meow

    The question if SunRay are zero admin or not. Well, they are close to zero admin.

    The firmware in SunRay is more similar to a BIOS. How often do you upgrade BIOS on a computer? Very seldom. If you never upgrade BIOS – then you have a zero admin solution. If you upgrade BIOS sometimes – then it is not zero admin. Matter of definition. But BIOS upgrade is automatically done on the SunRay.

    What I like most of the SunRay is that they has no CPU nor RAM that process any programs. Everything is done on the server. The SunRay sends in keyboard/mouse input and the server sends back bitmaps pictures. The SunRay just shows the pictures, and does nothing more. Send in Input, show Output.

    If you compare to other thin clients, they have 1GHz CPU and 256MB RAM. You can do no serious work on such a computer. And they have a stripped down OS, such as Linux or Windows CE. For all intents and purposes, they are like a weak PC, which you have to manage and patch. The SunRay, you just upgrade BIOS sometimes, and you can not upgrade RAM nor CPU on SunRay. If you need more power, you upgrade the server instead, and at once all SunRay has been upgraded. Therefore you will use the SunRay forever. In the future, there will be 100 core cpu with 256GB RAM, and the SunRay which are connected to the server will be the same old ones. The SunRay can not be upgraded.

    So if you login and work, you have maybe OpenOffice running, if you pull out your card and plug into another client, the same desktop is there. Nothing is changed, because the server keeps the entire session in memory. So you can work on your presentation at your office, pull the card and go into the big aula room and plugin your card on the SunRay there with the desktop as you left it. It is similar to if you pull the monitor cable, and insert the monitor cable into another screen – you will have the same desktop. You dont have to shutdown your session if you pull the monitor cable and insert into another monitor.