Sun launches Sun Ray, the thinnest of thin clients

Sun Microsystems has unveiled its Sun Ray 1 network appliance in what it says is a bid to cut management, maintenance and upgrade costs for businesses further than previous thin-client devices have allowed.

Sun Microsystems has unveiled its Sun Ray 1 network appliance in a bid to cut management, maintenance and upgrade costs for businesses further than previous thin-client devices have allowed.

Unlike prior network computers -- including Sun's own JavaStation -- the Sun Ray device requires no processing on the client side, according to Sun officials. The Sun Ray essentially displays applications running on the server-side, and provides an input mechanism that lets users access those applications.

"We have created a stateless and compute-less desktop to get you off the upgrade track for good," said Ed Zander, Sun president and chief operating officer.

The SunRay measures 11 by 12 inches and is 4 inches thick (280 by 306 by 102mm), incorporates a MicroSPARC chip, 8Mb of RAM, and a smart card reader, but no operating system. The current version of the machine offers no ability to attach local storage.

The device works in conjunction with the company's new Sun Ray Enterprise Server software and Hot Desk software technology. The server software provides user authentication services and manages software sessions between the client and server hardware. It also gives users access to networked peripherals.

The Hot Desk software, in conjunction with the smart card reader incorporated into the Sun Ray, lets users call up their applications from any Sun Ray device. Users need only to slip their smart card into a Sun Ray to access their applications from the server, Sun officials said.

In a demonstration of the Sun Ray here at the kickoff of Sun's Enterprise Computing Forum, Sun officials showed how a user can pull out a smart card in the middle of typing a word processor document, then, without logging off or logging on, slip the card into another Sun Ray device to call up the document, with the device displaying the last word typed on the earlier machine.

In its first iteration, Sun Ray is being marketed at the business and education markets, Sun officials said. One of the main messages conveyed here to businesses and schools is that Sun Ray will save on upgrade and management costs.

"I was able to cut my prices $US390 to $149 per person per year" using the Sun Ray technology, said Jim Pennington, chief of innovation at The Learning Station.com, in Charlotte, North Carolina, which was enlisted to be a part of the Sun Ray test program. The company offers educational computing products to schools, and recently switched from Microsoft Corp.-based technology to the Sun Ray. The cost savings are achieved mainly because all network administration is done centrally, Pennington said.

Sun Ray also should encourage further deployment of Internet-based applications in companies, according to Larry Silverman, an attendee here and chief executive officer of Buyline.net Inc., which is in the process of creating an Internet site to provide business-to-business and business-to-consumer e-commerce services.

"It's the software that's the important part of this announcement," Silverman said. "This will allow companies to put the Internet on user desktops without all the fears that they currently have that their users are going to waste time. Since all the management is done centrally, network administrators can put whatever filters they want on the server side."

Sun officials said that future versions of the Sun Ray will be aimed at the consumer market. Attendees like Silverman had some questions about the idea, however.

"Lack of local storage is an issue. For a network computer type device to succeed at the consumer level, you're going to need that," said Silverman. In the home, users may not always want to rely on an Internet connection to retrieve applications or documents, he said.

Sun officials said that a future version of the device will allow local storage devices to be connected through USB ports, though they gave no timeframe for the upgrade.

Sun officials also said they will license the Hot Desk protocols and the Sun Ray reference implementation to third parties. Some Sun officials said this would take at least six to nine months to do, though Zander, in a press question and answer session, quipped, "I'll say three months."

Sun is offering the Sun Ray, for workgroups of 50 to 200 users, priced at less than $30 per month per user, in a bundle that includes the StarOffice software suite, keyboard and mouse, a 17-inch Sun monitor, and Sun Ray Enterprise server software. The Sun Ray devices alone are priced at $9.99 per month, but do not include a monitor and require that the Hot Desk and Sun Ray Enterprise Server software be purchased separately, starting at $495 per one-CPU server. Individual Sun Rays are priced at $499 for purchase, without monitor or server-side software.

At its Enterprise Computing event yestelday, Sun also announced the worldwide availability of Sun.Com Consulting services, aimed at helping businesses plan and implement online business services, including customer relationship management and supply chain management. The new practice builds on Sun's existing Professional Services Internet infrastructure and application architecture services.

Sun, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at +1-650-960-1300 or at http://www.sun.com. Information on Sun Professional Service and Sun .Com Consulting is at www.sun.com/service/sunps/comsvcs.

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