SJVN: 2016, and Chrome OS is Ascendant

Thin clients of all kinds are doing well. Servers are where the ugly parts of computing reside so we can be cool, quiet and comfortable doing anything in IT optimally. Anyone who thinks the usual fat client is the way to do anything should explain how a single hard drive, limited to ~100 MB/s is better than a huge database residing in ECC RAM with many gB/s bandwidth in some distant server-warehouse. If you want power, servers are more powerful than any PC and they can be clustered if one is not enough. If you need flexible resources, servers can share loads and add and subtract from the cloud any way you want. It’s only a few cases where you are not online or where huge volumes of data need to be at your finger-tips that thin clients don’t work.

“today, there just isn’t that much that you can you do on a PC that you can’t do on a Chromebook. Indeed, some people, including yours truly and Computerworld’s J.R. Raphael, were already using Chromebooks all the time even before the recent refresh.”

Chromebooks are one of a dozen kinds of thin clients that are rapidly being put into service. Almost all smart thingies use cloud services much of the time. Millions of terminal servers and their clients work in organizations of any size with buildings full of people needing IT. It’s just too expensive to do IT any other way. Many thin clients need next to nothing for service and servers can be managed by the hundreds by a single human. Wintel wants to sell you a hard drive, a licence and a powerful CPU for every seat because that’s their business model, not yours. You want the best IT for the lowest price, right?

I don’t think it will take more than a year or two until all manners of thin clients are on top. It’s the right way to do IT.

see Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols: It's 2016, and Chrome OS is ascendant.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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22 Responses to SJVN: 2016, and Chrome OS is Ascendant

  1. Ray wrote, “everything won’t be in the cloud, since the network connection tends to be slower than the desktop’s hard drive.”

    It depends on whether you need I/O in a hurry or collaboration in a hurry. If collaboration is important, clouds work. If you need flexible computing cloud works. Get over thinking your body needs to be close to gigabytes of data. It’s your computing network that needs to be close to the data, not you.

  2. Ray says:

    Well, everything won’t be in the cloud, since the network connection tends to be slower than the desktop’s hard drive.

  3. kozmcrae says:

    Phenom wrote:

    “Saving energy is good thing, but not when it is hurting company’s performance.”

    Who is going to introduce a system that will “hurt performance”? I wouldn’t do that. No self respecting admin would. So your energy/performance argument is null and void. You seem to be saying all or nothing. I don’t think it’s so black and white. Just don’t install more power than is needed. What the hell is wrong with that? That’s what I’m saying. Don’t install more power than is needed. Or in other words, install *all the power that is needed*, but no more.

    “As for homes, thin clients do not work.”

    Maybe not, but there is always a place for an appliance that sips energy instead of gulping it. That’s where ARM come in.

  4. ch wrote, “Hmmm, 60 megapixels at 24 bits per pixel is 180 megaBYTES or roughly 1.5 GIGABITS per second, slightly more than 802.11n will handle.”

    Ever hear of data-compression? It does wonders for that bandwidth. That’s what enables YouTube and NetFlix to function in the real world. My home has Internet, telephone and TV all on the same cable at much less than 1.5gigabits/s.

  5. Phenom wrote, “Watching movies is a rather popular activity at home, Pogson.”

    And, if every home had a GNU/Linux terminal server, folks could watch the movie on its big screen…

    Phenom wrote, “WiFi is not good for watching HD video, period”

    I watch HD video all the time and my ISP connection seldom exceeds a WiFi bandwidth. My little woman watches a lot of video on YouTube and wireless works for her very well. We have 802.11g, not n.

  6. Phenom says:

    Pog, you spam filter sucks.

    Ah, and btw. 802.11n can reach 300 Mbps only in theory. I have seldomly seen devices connect at more than 150Mbps, and the real bandwidth you can achieve is even less.

  7. Phenom says:

    “Full-screen video is the only thing not optimal for thin clients”
    Only? Watching movies is a rather popular activity at home, Pogson.

    “but homes can easily arrange that video is limited to one or two clients”
    YouDon’tNeedThat(tm). But of course. How can I ask for everyone to watch his own preferred movie?

    “If you have one or two clients on a gigabit/s LAN segment, there is no problem with video”
    Now, you want me to wire my home, and have everyone trip over cables, and turning equipment down. Nice, eh?

    WiFi is not good for watching HD video, period. It can do the job if you only play the movie, but God help you if you want to fast-forward or rewind. I can tell you from my own experience (N-devices everywhere) that it is a pain in the ass.

    Btw, I can clearly recall that you were drooling about some small Samsung device being able to play HD video on a TV. Now, where does the thin-client theory that you love fit into this picture?

    Face it, Pogson. Small devices are becoming more and more powerful, and are anything but thin clients.

  8. ch says:

    > only 60 megapixels per second, easily handled by copper LAN and the latest wireless stuff

    Hmmm, 60 megapixels at 24 bits per pixel is 180 megaBYTES or roughly 1.5 GIGABITS per second, slightly more than 802.11n will handle. (And I don’t think that many homes already have 10 gigabit/s copper LAN 😉

  9. Phenom wrote, “As for homes, thin clients do not work. It is stupid to purchase and administer a server with a netwoprk at home, when you can go along pretty well with a couple of laptops and a couple of tablets.”

    Thin clients do work well. Most of the computing people do in their homes involves interacting with web-applications and dragging content in from the web to draw on screens/speakers. In a home, the large screen can be on the terminal server while the user provides inputs on the thin client. It’s all good and the terminal server can be on copper where there is a larger pipe. We have networks and should use them to improve the price/performance of the whole system. Thinking that each node in the network has to be expensive is just silly.

    Years ago, I opined that thin clients made a lot of sense once there were four clients in the system. Now, I think two is enough. Even a tiny family or individual can benefit from using thin clients.

    BTW, high definition video, 1080x1900x30 frames per second is only 60 megapixels per second, easily handled by copper LAN and the latest wireless stuff. Full-screen video is the only thing not optimal for thin clients but homes can easily arrange that video is limited to one or two clients and be laughing. If you have one or two clients on a gigabit/s LAN segment, there is no problem with video. Gigabit/s is very cheap these days. A homeowner can run gigabit/s to any particular client from his server for less than $100 and it raises the value of the home for many years.

  10. Phenom wrote, “I can puty you, Pogson. Offices and homes, however, happen to work in much more human conditions in the civilized world.”

    No! “Putty” is an SSH client for that other OS. I use openSSH in GNU/Linux.

    Humans work in the conditions they find themselves but they do tend to do whatever makes the world a better place in spite of the machinations of the rich and powerful.

  11. Phenom says:

    I can puty you, Pogson. Offices and homes, however, happen to work in much more human conditions in the civilized world.

  12. Phenom says:

    Mr. McRae wrote: Phenom gurgled
    That’s most disappointing, Mr. McRae. For a brief moment I thought you were actually capable of a good and meaningful dispute. Alas, disillusion is always around the corner for good-natured people.

    However, since I am in a particularly generous state of mind, let me try to explain.

    Saving energy is good thing, but not when it is hurting company’s performance.

    As for homes, thin clients do not work. It is stupid to purchase and administer a server with a netwoprk at home, when you can go along pretty well with a couple of laptops and a couple of tablets. At home, thin clients will clutter the WiFi connection very quickly – as soon as a single user starts watching HD video, the rest will be left basically offline.

  13. kozmcrae wrote, “If you were the IT person for a 1,000 station or greater installation and didn’t bother to explore low power solutions you should be fired. Wouldn’t you agree?”

    Forget 1K. I have been in charge of fewer than 100 machines where heat/power/noise were critical. I have worked in places where power rates exceeded $1/kwh and where 4 KW in electrical power and body heat (1 teenager ~100W) caused one to sweat all day long if there was no wind to cool the room. I used to drink 2L of water every shift to stay hydrated. I tried to persuade one boss to give us a set of ~10W thin clients to replace the ~100W thick clients to save us from the heat but the power bill was paid by another department and he estimated it would take two years to negotiate a deal up and down through seven level of bureaucracy. I was tempted to pay for the damned things out of my own pocket. I did buy 10. At those rates, we could have replaced every thick client with a thin client and had a net savings in 18 months with better performance, too, for most tasks.

  14. kozmcrae says:

    Phenom gurgled:

    “Well, in real-life it does, Mr. McRae.”

    If there is a solution that doesn’t include paying for power you don’t use then your “real-life” is missing a few components. If there is no solution, then there is no solution. I’m not talking about the latter.

    Are you suggesting to not bother looking for solutions that don’t require wasting power? If you were the IT person for a 1,000 station or greater installation and didn’t bother to explore low power solutions you should be fired. Wouldn’t you agree?

    I think you will find a way to disagree. Low power consumption is not just a nice-to-have. It’s becoming a necessity.

  15. Phenom wrote of bandwidth, nothing at all to do with PCs, “Normally, a 20Mbps would be more than enough for everyday operations. But I would really puty such a shop if they have anything less than 40Mbps, and have it doubled by another, independent provider. Because an outage of one day can take you out of business.”

    You write of the bottleneck of the ISP, not the end user at a PC. One is heavily utilized by cramming the demands of hundreds or thousands down a single pipe when in fact the issue is one or a few users of a PCs putting forth a few spikes in usage. Apples and Oranges if I ever saw them… An ISP will forge multiple connections and load-balance them because the ISP has to survive an outage if possible.

  16. Phenom says:

    Mr. McRae wrote: “It doesn’t make sense to overpower 1,000 computers for 195 days of the year because you need that power for just 5 days of the year. “

    Well, in real-life it does, Mr. McRae. In my country we have a proverb, which would sound in English like “one day brings bread for the whole year”.

    Here is an OS-independant example for you and Pog – internet bandwidth. An ISV, who maintains remote systems, or does development with remote source servers, probably involving remote databases, needs a potent Internet bandwidth. Normally, a 20Mbps would be more than enough for everyday operations. But I would really puty such a shop if they have anything less than 40Mbps, and have it doubled by another, independent provider. Because an outage of one day can take you out of business.

  17. Phenom says:

    Pogson wrote: With GNU/Linux users can usually run 400% overloads and stuff behaves as normally.

    Please enlighten me, Pog. How does a hardware component run at 400% of its capacity?

    Oh, but you are speaking of thin clients with a server, and that the server is way too powerful, and can accomodate extra workload, aren’t you, Pogson?

    But then you must surely be aware of the simple fact that the server should normally run at 30-40% load to be able to meet the peak overload of users. Which is also redundancy. You are aware of that, aren’t you Pogson? Are you?

  18. kozmcrae says:

    Five days in 200 you need more power? How much more? Are working on five documents simultaneously too much for a thin client? I’m not a thin client expert but I would say no.

    I would also say that if a worker or department has such a small need for more power than a thin client could supply but for just a small percentage of the work, that some other arrangement could be found. It doesn’t make sense to overpower 1,000 computers for 195 days of the year because you need that power for just 5 days of the year. That’s not a solution. It’s not even a workaround. It’s a “I give up” and give in to the Microsoft sales person.

  19. Phenom, not understanding a true multi-user/multi-tasking OS like GNU/Linux wrote, “When you want to be able to meet these peak moments with adequate efficiency, you need to plan that your everyday work does not consume more than 40% of your total resources. Some sources would even lower this number to 30%.”

    HAHAHA! Written like a true user of that other OS. With GNU/Linux users can usually run 400% overloads and stuff behaves as normally. I have run 40 users on a single PC and they all were happy. I have done major maintenance on a PC with 20 simultaneous users without inconveniencing anyone using GNU/Linux. Get over yourself and your Wintel-PC-upselling.

    If one has truly an increasing load one can just move processes to other terminal servers and the user is none the wiser but still getting great performance. Ever heard of clustering/cloud/load-balancing. With GNU/Linux one can do anything and not be limited by the marketing droids of Wintel.

  20. Phenom says:

    Mr. McRae, it is always a pleasure to read some polite and sane statement. Somewhat shallow, indeed, but still sane, and I will take my time to discuss it.

    “It’s madness to have overpowered, underutilized behemoths…”

    One word, Mr. McRae. Scalability.

    People’s work is interesting, because it never consumes one and the same level of resources. Sometimes you need less, sometimes you need more. 200 days in a year you work on a single document, but five days you will work with five – ten documents simultaneously. These extremes are the so called “peak” moments.

    When you want to be able to meet these peak moments with adequate efficiency, you need to plan that your everyday work does not consume more than 40% of your total resources. Some sources would even lower this number to 30%.

    In other words. Woe on me, Mr. McRae, if I don’t have the power when I need it; all my savings are worth naught.

  21. kozmcrae says:

    Phenom wrote:

    “That’s regression, some would say.”

    Things are different now Phenom. Right? No, really. We live in a very different world than we did from 10 or 20 years ago. The issue of energy is a huge factor. We no longer have the option to burn fuel at increasing rates. It costs too much and it’s killing the planet.

    It makes much more sense to give each computer installation just what it needs in resources when it needs it and no more. Thin clients can do that. It’s madness to have overpowered, underutilized behemoths sitting on 1,000 desks.

  22. Phenom says:

    Pogson, you always happen to forget how the world was already on thin-clients, and that it deliberately moved away from that. I wonder why you insist the world will go back. That’s regression, some would say.

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