Thin wallet meets thin client

Hagley Community College in Christchurch has amassed a mixed bag of computers over the years, including many donated by local companies. Thanks to thin-client computing using NCD WinCenter (an extension of Citrix WinFrame), the school is now making use of all its hardware, regardless of age, make or processor.

Hagley Community College in Christchurch has amassed a mixed bag of computers over the years, including many donated by local companies. Thanks to thin-client computing using NCD WinCenter (an extension of Citrix WinFrame), the school is now making use of all its hardware, regardless of age, make or processor.

In 1993 Hagley's set-up comprised a Novell NetWare 3.11 server connected to diskless 386 PCs in the commerce department, a separate Novell NetWare 3.12 server running the school's administration system also connected to 386 PCs, and a few Acorn 486 RISC PCs and Macintosh machines. In 1996 the Accident Compensation Corporation gave Hagley 10 diskless Compaq 386/SX 25s but rather than sell the school a 10-user extension for NetWare 3.1, Novell would only offer a 50-user licence for NetWare 4.1. As this was going to cost $8000, the school decided not to go ahead and the PCs sat in the corner.

Last year geography teacher Douglas Harre took on the job of reorganising the network and embarked on a steep learning curve about thin-client computing. He decided to install NCD's WinCenter to enable the commerce department's old 386sx/33s to run Office 97 and also to connect the diskless Compaq machines donated by the ACC. "Many of the night school students have day jobs where they are using the latest software and the night school felt it was losing students because it couldn't offer up-to- date packages," says Harre.

"The commerce department had been putting aside money to upgrade its hardware so it could offer Office 97. I decided that with the money saved it could use Win-Center to offer the upgraded software rather than upgrading the hard--ware." It also allowed the school to connect the donated Compaqs to a new server and provide applications remotely.

Harre says the decision to go with NCD WinCenter rather than Citrix WinFrame came about by coincidence because BCL, the school's IT supplier, is also the New Zealand agent for NCD. "In September BCL installed a test-bed WinCenter server running Office 97, connected it to the 386s [with 4Mb of RAM] and up popped Office 97, running at Pentium speed."

The school already had 30 WinCenter licences when Goodman Fielder Wattie donated another 15. It has been taken over by Heinz, which did not have WinCenter in its IT plan. Harre says as well as Office 97, the WinCenter server runs Publisher, IE3.02, and educational software Logo and Crocodile Clips among other apps. Using the Citrix ICA client (a free download from the Citrix site — www.citrix.com), the school is also running these programs on a suite of 20 Acorn RISC PCs as well as Macs.

Harre says visitors to the school are amazed that Word 97 runs so quickly on a 386SX20 with 4Mb of RAM — about as fast as on Pentium 90 machines, he estimates. He says other applications also run well, and he has had 20 users on the Internet at once with no appreciable slowdown.

For the school's other network Harre decided to ditch the two Novell networks and go to Windows NT, as WinCenter is based on NT 3.5. He says he spent a lot of time wondering whether this was a good strategic move but decided to go to NT Server 4.0 so he wouldn't have to learn two network operating systems. The main NT server is a Pentium II 233MHz with 128Mb of RAM and 2 x 4.5Gb hard drives running NT 4.0. This is used to store all student and staff files (currently just over 2000 accounts, including a high number of part-time students). It also authenticates log-ins for the WinCenter server, as well as runing the school administration program and Quota manager software. Acorn RISC PCs are connected for file storage and account management using Omniclient software.

The second NT server, primarily used for the Internet, is a Pentium 166MHz with 128Mb of RAM running Exchange Server 5.0 with MS Proxy server software for email and Internet access. It will also be used for scheduling and for an in-progress intranet which is being developed to fit with the existing college Web site.

The WinCenter server is a dual Pentium Pro 266 with 384Mb RAM (to be upgraded to 512Mb by the end of the year) and a 45-user WinCenter licence. The cost is about $24,000 ($9000 for server and $12000 for software, plus installation, UPS etc). This compares with $50,000-60,000 for a new suite of PCs, says Harre. Old 386s can be hooked up to the WinCenter server, as can the Acorn RISC PCs using the Citrix ICA for Acorn client software. Hagley now buys ex-lease Compaqs for bulk computer needs.

Harre says because WinCenter is based on NT 3.51, users logging on see the old Windows 3.11 screen (unlike the Windows 95 interface that comes with Microsoft Windows Terminal Server). "They only see this screen for a few seconds before clicking on Word 97 or whatever application they're using so I don't see it as much of an issue," he says.

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