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Re: [K12OSN] Thin Client



Omar Olivos wrote:

Hi,

In a recent meeting at my school we were discussing Thin Client technology. Some people in the meeting were under the impression that Thin Client technology is old and is not used anymore by ‘big’ schools. (We have two sections with more than 600 students in each section). Or if it used it is not done successfully. It was very difficult for me to convince them other wise. I have been using K12LTSP in a computer lab and with a small number of children and talked about the benefits but evidence of ‘real’ success was requested. Anybody on the list could contact me with any ‘big’ school that is using thin client technology ‘successfully’? So that I can actually ‘prove’ that K12LTSP is a very good option.

Thanks for your help,

Omar Olivos

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As a couple of others have pointed out, there are many successful deployments. The technology is not old, but it is proven to work and has matured over the years. Perhaps this is why it is seeing a revival? (Also, there is Largo, Florida (?) which uses thin clients for the city).

Newark Charter School (5-8) has been using K12LTSP for 2 years now. We have around 650 students. We have 31 clients in the Tech Lab which are used 7 periods per day, plus lunch time access as well. The library has 24 thin clients, and we are adding 10 more this summer. The library systems are in use at least 6 periods every day by teachers who bring in their classes to do writing (using StarOffice) combined with web-based research. The school librarian is on-hand to assist with issues, although issues are very rare. All students have their own accounts. We have 2 K12LTSP servers running. One runs the Tech Lab and all teachers' thin clients (teachers only have thin clients at their desks) (this is around 55 clients). The other runs the Library and all other thin clients in the school. We have a third K12LTSP server that can be used, if needed, to pick up for either of these systems in case of an emergency but in 2 years have never needed it to do so. Teachers are allowed to have as many thin clients in their classrooms as they can find space (the systems are recycled and cost the school nothing). All data for all students/teachers are maintained on a central file server. We also have two Win2K Terminal Servers that are accessed via rdesktop for Windows-based apps. One is for the students, the other is for the teachers. The Assistant Principal, Dean of Students and Guidance Counselors use thin clients for all work and have not had any issues that could not be resolved fairly easily. Only the School Director, Executive Assistant, Secretary and Head Custodian have traditional PC's at their desks.

Printing is handled via CUPS, and any one can print to any printer anywhere (the students are taught that this flexibility is not to be abused, violations are handled like any other policy violation). The students also know that every job that is printed is automatically tracked (neat feature of CUPS), so it is known who, where and when everything is printed if there are issues. Similarly, it is trivial to determine who is logged on, where, when, for how long, etc. Just part of the normal stuff that a UNIX-based system monitors automatically. All teachers have laser printers attached to their thin clients at their desks, so printing is fairly simple. Some teachers have even 'discovered' that they can just send a document to another teacher just by picking the correct printer, instead of 'hand delivering' it. I know this isn't innovative, but it was interesting when they finally realized the implication of being able to do this. Almost as interesting as when they finally catch on that it doesn't matter what thin client they sit at, all their stuff is still just 'there'. No more, 'Oh, it is on my computer back in the classroom' type situations.

The K12LTSP servers have never 'just died'. We did have a very rare disk drive failure (the RAID started an automatic rebuild) last spring, which was then followed by a power outage while the RAID was rebuilding which caused us to lose a server for 1 day (corrupted the parts of file system which has to be restored for certain user accounts when it finally did recover). The servers cost about 3K (on average, and this should be less now for just a K12LTSP server). So, for 3K, we can effectively upgrade all attached thin clients in the school vs 1K per traditional system. With 60 clients attached, this is 3K vs 60K in expenses. Add in the reduced maintenance costs (1 system vs 60) and it is very appealing. Again, we have a system available to kick in as a backup, just in case, so mayber 6K is a better number if discussing upgrades? Since the needs of the students are fairly well defined and the servers are rather robust (dual 2.4GHz xeons + 4 Gb memory), upgrades just because the OS is upgraded isn't required (in fact, with the 2.6 kernel, the system feels faster than with the 2.4)

The students are very comfortable with the technology and expect it to just work. Many of the students acutally started to prefer the thin clients (although some were so MS-centric that it would never have changed their minds. Also some were upset that they couldn't just install some software :) ) The teachers were a little hesitant, but didn't report any problems, and have in fact asked for more systems. The only real issues were sound and streaming video. Since the state blocks both of these for many websites at the firewalls, it wasn't a huge issue in any event. The School Director has been very impressed and is volunteering the school as a tech demonstrator for any other schools to come in and see how to implement this solution on a shoe-string budget.

As for being an inferior technology, NCS was again rated a Superior School (one of only a handful of middle schools in the state, and the only one to have received this distinction every year possible). So, the technology has not hindered the teachers or students. The students and teachers have gained a real appreciation for what OpenSource means (both in terms of availability, quality, and effectiveness) and how it can be used.

The adminstrative costs have also been rather low (for the most part it has been just me, as a volunteer, about 8 hours per week on average), but I have the help of this list, but some other people off and on at the school, typically during the summer (please do not take this as a boast, it is not intended as such, just trying to give a feel for how much time is needed. In fact, if the sysadmin is actually competent, it should have been less :), but I are an engineer, not CIS, so I can be slow). This has freed up funds for other actitivities such as books, field trips, other hardware as needed, ....

For next year, the Librarian (who is also the school tech coordinator now) and I have some plans for additional capabilities that we want to add using the existing hardware. Like teachertool and vncreflector to look/share any desktop to any location(s) (including overhead projectors connected to thin clients as their displays).

Sorry for being so long winded and not as organized/direct in the answer. NCS is just a small school in a rather small state, but K12LTSP has made a huge positive difference for us.

Sincerely,
Dave Hopkins


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