RealTime IT News

Sun Ray Thin Client Gets Video Upgrade

Sun's thin client customers are set to receive a little more video muscle today when Sun distributes new firmware for its Sun Ray Line. With earlier versions, the software decoding to transmit video files was done on the server; now with the newer Sun Ray 4 10/08 software, the video software is decoded locally at the client device.

"So if it's an MPEG 4 or Windows Media Video stream, we don't decode on the server, we identify it and let the Sun Ray lay it out on the screen," Chris Kawalek, product line manager for desktop and virtualization marketing at Sun (NASDAQ: JAVA), told InternetNews.com. "This reduces CPU utilization on the server and reduces bandwidth because before we had kind of a brute force approach of decoding on the server."

Thin client solutions have been around for years, but have never reached their once-promised potential of broadly displacing desktop PCs. Still, they have established a niche in call centers and other parts of the enterprise where application needs are relatively simple and unchanging and where companies are looking to save on maintenance, support and hardware costs. There are also security advantages in having applications distributed from the server and files stored there as well, reducing the likelihood of viruses.

The Sun Ray line is a truly "thin" client that relies primarily on the server for processing, where competitors such as HP (NYSE: HPQ) and Wyse offer beefed up "chubby" clients that include PC and graphics chips to handle more of the processing locally.

These clients tend to be more expensive than the Sun Ray, which starts at $249, but are more akin to PCs in their ability to, for example, handle full screen video. Kawalek said with the new firmware, Sun Rays are now better suited to handle corporate training videos and other transmissions that customers have been asking for.

"We asked our customers what they needed and the vast majority said they wanted decent size video, which we now provide," he said. Users can display full screen, but Kawalek admits the resolution isn't very good and suggests a window that's less than full screen. "It's not full screen, but a decent size; we got 90 percent of the way there."

Software price drop

Sun also dropped the price of the subscription service for Sun Ray software from $125 to $100 per concurrent users for four licenses. A free, 90-day trial is also available.

Asked about Sun Ray, versus HP and Wyse's thin clients, Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said, "They all have tradeoffs. With Sun Ray, Sun's approach has always been 'How thin can we make it?' and they've done a good job with that."

Sun Ray have been around for almost ten years with few new versions of the client hardware needed. In fact, Kawalek said there are companies still using the original Sun Rays, which can still run Windows Vista off the server.

"We don't refresh our hardware very often because we don't need to," said Kawalek. "If you want to go from XP to Vista or to Ubuntu Linux it doesn't matter. If you need more RAM, that's added to the server."

He said Sun is working on new designs but those aren't likely to be out for a few more years. At some customer sites, he says end users think they got a new PC when IT distributes new LCD monitors to replace old CRTs.

Haff speculates Sun may eventually add more local processing, since it's becoming so cheap.