Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Sun Ray Software 5 EA 1 First Impressions

After several hours of testing, I've got a somewhat lengthy initial evaluation of two of the major new features: Adobe Flash enhancements and the Soft Client. I don't have Windows Server 2008 that I can play with, but I trust it just means that some extra QA testing has gone into making the Terminal Services Client play well on 2008, as well as added support for multimedia features. With that said, a quick description of my testing setup:
  • Windows XP laptop (ThinkPad T61, Intel Core 2 T8300 dual core CPU, 3 GB RAM) -- doubles as both the Windows Remote Desktop server and the host for the Solaris 10 VM. The Soft Client was also tested from here.

  • VirtualBox (3.0) VM running Solaris 10 Update 7 and SRS 5 components (32-bit, 2 VCPUs, 768 MB RAM)

  • Sun Ray 270

Adobe Flash acceleration
Short comment: It works great!
Long comment: Flash (while limited to IE 7 and 8, sizes less than 1024x768, and Sun Ray 2 series DTUs) has been brought up to par with other video enhancements already made in earlier releases. Here's a table of bandwidth and CPU usage, as well as perceived quality of a particular YouTube video. For those interested, the video I used was the NewsChannel8 story on the TJHSST Sun Grant. Perceived quality was differentiated at about 0:51 (video of walking across the room). CPU usage only accounts for the Xnewt (X server) process, and in the case of Windows sessions, the uttsc process as well. For the WinXP lines, the word after the slash is the argument passed to uttsc. Off equates to how performance was before SRS 5.

TestBW (Mbps)CPU (%)Quality
S10/Firefox 3/Flash 94070Better

As with a lot of the other multimedia enhancements, Sun Ray 1 series DTUs don't fare as well. While I haven't actually tested them in this case, according to the documentation, WinXP/FlashAll isn't even an option there. Now...if only video on *NIX could get some love, too. But, as Sun once told us, most of Sun's Ray customers use Windows, so that's where most of the engineering effort goes these days. Oh well. C'est la vie.

Soft Client
Short comment: It works! Needs some polish and advanced features, but otherwise works!
Long comment: To get the soft client to work, remember to enable "Software Client Access" from the administration GUI or set a utpolicy that has "-u pseudo". You also need to be using the EA version of SRSS as older versions don't understand soft clients. I initially overlooked these two requirements and almost passed the Soft Client off as not working.
The overall experience was comparable to that of a hardware DTU (even sound works!), although the performance in some intense cases (i.e. video) seemed slightly inferior. This is surprising since the Soft Client is running on my comparatively powerful Windows PC, while the Sun Ray has a little 4 watt embedded CPU. Of course, the DTU firmware has probably been significantly optimized. Note that I was able to test the Soft Client with a fully powered Sun Ray server (Sun Fire X4150, 8 core Intel Xeon X5460, 24 GB RAM), although only over my home WAN connection (DSL, 3 Mbps downstream). I don't know how well it would do in a LAN environment with that same server.
What is missing is hotdesking and support for non-Windows! Actually, I think hotdesking would work with NSCM, but I have my own reasons for not using it where I work. Having said that, Soft Client tokens can be registered just like other smart card and DTU pseudo tokens, so by setting up alias tokens, you can effectively use the soft client to attach to an existing smart card session, enabling hotdesking without NSCM! It'd be nice if the Soft Client could offer to present different tokens to the server though, since as a systems administrator, I've got about 5 different smart cards that I use (one for each FOG, redirected using AMGH). But for most people, the default of one token should be fine.
The Soft Client is Windows-only...but it shouldn't be too hard to port to *NIX! In fact, if you look in the installation directory, you find none other than GTK+ libraries. GTK is widely used on *NIX anyways, so I guess it's just a matter of customer demand. Personally I'd find a Linux version very interesting, since it then opens up the possibilities of building a Sun Ray netbook (the existing Sun Ray laptops don't impress me all that much in terms of battery life and lacking a middle mouse button, as well as lacking other modern laptop features).

BONUS new security feature: Client Authentication
It's in the docs. It's in the administration GUI. It has new commands and man pages to go with it. But it's not listed on the "What's New" listing! I won't say too much more here since the official documentation explains it pretty well. Perhaps Sun wasn't all that ready for it yet; the docs on the new for it even have colored notes left inline for documentation editors to address.

That's all for now, folks. More to come soon :)

As a footnote to help un-confuse some things, SRS 5 includes SRSS 4.2, SRWC 2.2, and Soft Client 1.0. SRS refers to the entire suite and stands for Sun Ray Software, while SRSS stands for Sun Ray Server Software.

EDIT 7/9/2009 11:56 AM: Client authentication is listed as a new feature in the SRSS 4.2 docs, but not in the SRS 5 docs.


  1. First of all, great writeup.

    I'm the writer for the SRS 5 docs and I just wanted to let you know that I've added the client authentication feature to the SRS 5 What's New list. This was an oversight, and thanks for pointing it out.

    As for the colored notes, the documentation is still work-in-progress and we are using the colored notes in some instances to communicate changes/updates needed, as opposed to providing comments using the comments feature.

    Rest assured that all of these inline notes will be cleaned up and addressed before the product gets released. We just happen to be working on the documenation in the open, so that is what you are seeing.

    Oh, and if you have any comments or ideas for the documentation, don't hesitate to use the comments feature at the end of every page. We value everyone's ideas or suggestions.


  2. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the compliment! I like the new wiki format for documentation as well; we've actually been using wikis for our site-specific work at TJHSST as well.

    I also caught a few other overlooked new features in 2 other blog entries that I made about EA1, and If you could fix those as well, that'd be great. I'll be sure to make comments on the wiki docs where appropriate, too.


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