[K12OSN] Thin Client

Dave Hopkins dahopkins at comcast.net
Sun Jul 10 04:56:55 UTC 2005

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
>K12OSN mailing list
>K12OSN at redhat.com
>For more info see <http://www.k12os.org>
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 

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.

Dave Hopkins

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