Richmond Schools: Consider Thin Clients

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Richmond High School student Jonathan Ulrich helped to set up and test a thin client lab.

This is an open letter to the Richmond, Indiana Community School system. There is a school board meeting coming up to discuss how to fund technology upgrades with a dwindling budget. I strongly suggest the school system consider Linux thin client labs as part of the solution. Thin client labs are made with low-cost, low-power, low-maintenance stations and have many advantages.

A Linux thin client lab is already being used successfully in the area. Four years ago in Brookville, Indiana a thirty-seat thin client lab was set up at St. Michael’s School. Initial costs were kept low through low hardware requirements and the use of free, open source software. The lab is still in use four years later. Minimal maintenance has been required, including zero virus/spyware/malware infections due to the use of Linux.

Thin clients don’t need a hard drive, which are at the top of the list of the common parts to fail in a computer. Instead, every workstation pulls all the software it needs from a single server, meaning there is a one computer to maintain software on in the lab, not thirty. So St. Michael’s unplugged the hard drives in their machines, cutting down on noise in the lab, and well as reducing the energy consumed by the lab.

I recommend checking for yourself on this success story. For the administrator perspective, contact the Principal, Ken Saxon at (765) 647-4961. For the IT perspective, contact Mike Heins, who set up the system and maintains it: (765) 328 4479, (also at mikeh@perusion.net).

The use of Linux in Indiana schools is not new, either. In 2005 the state of Indiana launched a state-wide initiative to put Linux on the the desktop of 300,000 Indiana high school students. Locally, Northeastern High School has made significant use of Linux.

I’ve already hinted that thin clients have lower power requirements and can be lower maintenance. The hardware needed for thin client workstations is not special. In fact, old desktop hardware that would otherwise be discarded for being slow is ideal. In a thin client system, the performance is determined by the server, and the workstation needs just a minimal amount of resources to connect to it.

With these principles, I built a four-seat demonstration lab at my church, using three computers so old that a local computer store gave them to me. I paid only $50 for a memory upgrade for the server. As a thin client lab, these old computers came back to life and performed like modern desktops, although they ran Windows 98 in their former lives.

Because a school lab setting is ideal place to deploy a thin client network, there are several projects that focus on exactly this, and give away the required software. These include K12Linux and Edubuntu. Both are exceptionally easy to try out and install, from personal experience.

Pursuing thin client now is a strategic move that works towards the goal of the City’s Comprehensive Plan to be a “Sustainable City”. The plan is fiscally conservative and technologically advanced, with low impact on the environment and energy bills.

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Lest we not forget the times when using expensive proprietary hardware and software without exploring more open alternatives comes back around to bite us in the rear, I thought I'd highlight two issues currently being mentioned in the local press. 1) T... Read More

7 Comments

Mark,

Great post. As an I.T. professional, I have been a part of a thin client deployment. We deployed HP T500s. We use a remote desktop connection to a terminal server at our main location. Everything works quite well. I am in the process of deploying an open thin client server. http://openthinclient.org/home

That software works really well and is easy to manage and administrate.

I also have used thin station on some old hardware and these worked fine as a thin client. http://www.thinstation.org/

Dave
Newark, Ohio

Great letter!
I really hope that RCS considers this.
I thought the original tags on the photo were really funny ... and how true.

Jonathan

This is fantastic! An eloquent and compelling letter. I'm glad that a Sun-pioneered concept (that of course requires custom products) is finding expression with Linux and in places like public schools. I really hope this goes somewhere.

Do you think similar labs would work well in higher education? I feel like most students (at earlham at least) just need a browser, an office suite, and a chat client, all of which can be easily served up in a thin client lab

In the news today I just noticed that the country of Brazil is choosing Linux thin clients. They will deploy over 350,000 Linux thin client desktops, at a cost of about $50 per desktop, plus the substantial ongoing energy savings that will come with that. full story on 350,000 Linux desktops deployed in Brazil

MSD Of Perry Township; School deploying 160 thin clients from DisklessWorkstations.com using K12Linux.

Awesome!

The additional robust security native to Linux is a big boost too.

Have you heard any word about this lately?

As a result of my communication, Rob Tidrow from the RCS IT department met with me. It was a good meeting, and I sensed some openness to Linux and thin clients.

That was several weeks ago and we haven't had follow up communication since then. I think there's still an open channel of communication on this topic at this point.

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