Construction firm moves to thin client to boost productivity

Australian construction and building group BGC has ousted half of its fleet of Wintel PCs in favour of thin clients running...

Australian construction and building group BGC has ousted half of its fleet of Wintel PCs in favour of thin clients running Solaris.

BGC's IT director, Andrew Buckeridge, said the main benefit in moving to a thin-client architecture is a reduction in manpower required to "feed" desktops.

"We were going backwards with Windows," Buckeridge said. "When we got the SunRays we started moving forward although manpower remained static."

BGC has replaced 170 desktop PCs with SunRay thin clients running Solaris on the servers. Sun Microsystems' StarOffice and the Netscape e-mail and internet applications are the main productivity tools.

"In [software] licences we've come out in front as we paid for our UltraSparc E250 boxes in licences alone," Buckeridge said.

"We're not buying PCs at about £470 each and are buying the Rays at around £350 each. The ROI for the SunRay [project] is tricky, but we didn't need one to see the problem. Now the problem is under control as we have been virus-free for years and this was our plan."

The company's network manager, Ben Kelly, said the SunRays are now running at eight separate sites across the country.

"There are no virus outbreaks or spam relay problems," Kelly said. "If the power goes out, the clients are not affected and if users do something stupid it will only affect them. I don't have to do any management of the systems themselves and they require a lot less management than a PC."

Kelly said a Windows-based Citrix server has also been set up to serve Windows applications to the thin clients giving users "no excuse" not to use them.

"People are reluctant to change because they know Windows," he said. "After a few weeks they are happy that their computer doesn't crash. Also the roaming profiles work well between offices."

BGC has a single Sun server at each SunRay site and is looking at migrating the remainder of its desktops over to thin clients with the possibility of Linux instead of Solaris.

"Sun's casual attitude towards Linux is short-sighted," Buckeridge said. "Upgrading the Sun boxes is not cheap, but we probably won't go with Intel because it doesn't scale. We've considered Linux desktops in the past, but we didn't have the resources to build a SOE. It's easier now with [Linux distribution] Knoppix so we'll keep and eye on it."

BGC was also an early adopter of Linux as its network infrastructure for e-mail, DNS, and file-sharing is hosted on Debian GNU/Linux dating back about six years.

"We also use Linux boxes as Layer 3 routers and have saved a lot on Cisco routers," Kelly said.

Rodney Gedda writes for Computerworld Today

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