3 Apr 2011

LTSP - Back to the Future

During our Linux for Business Workshop we demonstrate Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) technology, and it’s fun to note parallels between what was, what is, and what’s going to be, as it seems the old saying is indeed true in that nothing is really new and “What goes around comes around”.

A “client/server” model was the original method of computing. Resources were held centrally and computing (processor) time allotted to remote terminals. Technology has of course evolved and now we have more computing power in a digital watch than was once delivered from the monolithic mainframe systems that used to spit out punched cards to the bespectacled analysts of the 70's.

The mainstream business PC of today has it’s own internal hard disk and is a fully functioning computing entity in itself, albeit an inefficient one prone to failure and resulting admin overhead, however the realised push for virtualisation is bringing change and thanks to initiatives such as LTSP offers resulting ease of implementation.

In a nutshell, LTSP offers remote network booting for PXE clients (Diskless PC terminals) from a single instance of a centrally managed Ubuntu desktop operating system. The advantages of which are multi-layered -
  • Substantial drop in hardware spec. No internal hard drive required, lower operational processing power, reduced memory & graphics, smaller unit footprint. Resulting savings for power consumption.
  • One single instance of the operating system to patch, update and administrate.
  • Simple backup (Data is already present in a single location on the server).
  • Default single location for all user accounts and managed groups.
  • Speed of installation for new clients (i.e “Instant”).
Plus, as the LTSP framework offers multi-client logins you can still manage your suite as an enterprise network, most excellent. The only “downside” (if you can call it such) is a 128mb memory requirement per-client on the server, and a decent network infrastructure of course, ideally GB but 100base is adequate.

Thin client technology predominantly enjoys widespread use around education establishments and dynamic environments such as internet cafes and co-working spaces, but with browser based software delivery becoming more the norm is an intelligent infrastructure option for any forward thinking office.

Ubuntu offer an “Out of the box” LTSP server install from their Alternate CD (download it HERE). Installation requires a dual NIC host and is as easy as pressing F4 at boot and selecting the "Install an LTSP Server" option (Fig:1).

Fig:1 - LTSP Install. Press F4 at boot to access the Modes menu as pictured.

Fig:2 - Primary NIC selection. The secondary NIC is used for client connection/delivery.

Fig:3 - The LTSP Client Boot-Splash with log-in. Note the local IP.

Once up and running all connecting LTSP clients are presented with a standard OS image (shell), something you will invariably wish to modify and lockdown. This is easily achieved using two standard utilities, Sabayon (Profile Editor) and Pessulus (Lockdown), installed on Ubuntu from the CLI.

$ sudo apt-get install sabayon pessulus

Once installed access from the Administration drop-down menu (Lockdown Editor & User Profile Editor). Configurations can be used in conjunction with the operating system Users & Groups utility to deliver a flexible and secure client access framework.

Fig:4 - The Sabayon User Profile Editor presents a fully windowed desktop for easy configuration. 

If you are interested in expanded Thin Client technology feel free to give us a call, we would be more than happy to help and advise you.

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