Other Approaches

All the desktop solutions discussed so far, and Novell's SLED offering, in general, assume a local installation on each machine. In other words, replacing the existing local Windows installation on each desk with a Linux installation. As noted previously, such a solution, if it is to be adopted on a large scale, requires some kind of system dedicated to the central management of software installation and updates.

An interesting alternative to this approach is the idea of a diskless Linux thin client. There are a number of projects in this area, of which the best known is the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). In such a setup, the client PC boots across the network (if the network card is capable of PXE booting, this just works) and gets an address by DHCP (see Chapter 20), loads a kernel from the LTSP server, and mounts a minimal Linux filesystem by NFS covered in Chapter 22 (or over a network block device) from the server, and starts a local X display. It then runs all applications on the server with only the display happening locally. No management of any kind is required for the client, which has nothing installed on it. If a client fails, it can simply be unplugged and replaced.

i r - - r Novell has recently started offering a thin client version of SLED to commercial cus

' - ~ ■"■> ■ tomers. This is more a methodology delivered on a per-customer basis, however, than a "product." At the same time, an openSUSE project to provide LTSP functionality, via the kiwi image-building project, is also at an advanced stage. The kiwi tool is also an integral part of Novell's SUSE Linux Enterprise Point of Sale (SLEPOS) product for tills and point-of-sale devices that can download and run a system image built by kiwi.

This type of technology is not new, but it has become more attractive recently because of two factors:

■ The relative power of the server hardware that is available makes it possible to run many more clients from one server than was previously possible.

■ The other previously limiting factor for this type of solution, the heavy network traffic produced by large numbers of multiple X sessions, can be overcome by using a new technology called NX, which compresses the X protocol and drastically reduces the resulting network traffic. An NX server can also be used in connection with a Citrix server to deliver Windows applications to Linux desktops.

You can find more information about LTSP at www.ltsp.org. The FreeNX project at http://freenx.berlios.de is based on work done and released as open source by NoMachine (www.nomachine.com).

Note that there is no reason why the Linux version running on the LTSP server should not be one of the business desktop-specific versions mentioned here, including SLED, so a combination of the two approaches is possible.

Now that kiwi and the combined kiwi/LTSP solutions are becoming mature so it is likely that more thin client, desktop solutions based on SLED will become available in the future.

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