Now I am confused with Sun.

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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