Sun to Pull the Curtain Back on Sun Ray

Sun Microsystems Inc. will announce tomorrow its Sun Ray 1 desktop appliance and supporting technology that could become a "green screen on steroids" for the next millennium.

Incorporating three components -- the desktop appliance, Sun Ray Server software, and Hot Desk technology -- the network-centric solution will allow IT managers to deploy almost any enterprise-level application from a Sun Solaris server to any Sun Ray appliance, according to officials. Microsoft Office applications, mainframe applications, Unix applications, and Sun's recently announced Star Office suite were all given as examples of applications that can be deployed in this way.

According to Andy Bochman, research director for Information Appliances at the Aberdeen Group, in Boston, the Sun Ray has many of the pluses of the old green screens in terms of ease of use and manageability with none of the typical dumb terminal computing limitations.

Hot Desk uses SmartCard technology to allow users to access information anywhere within a workgroup environment. Users insert a SmartCard into the device which authenticates the user's ID. The Hot Desk technology also enables the rendering of the application execution on the server, sending it down to the Sun Ray 1 appliance.

"Before the Sun Ray, if I wanted to show video I would need a video coprocessor on that terminal. In this case any resource on the network is available. You don't have to bring someone to your own desk," said Robert Gianni, director of engineering at Sun. "Other terminals require font libraries, a Windows Manager, and other computer resources. All of that is on the server," Gianni added.

The Sun Ray appliance effectively becomes the end node of the network, and its function is to display pixels on the screen, capture keyboard and mouse clicks, and send them back to the server.

Aberdeen's Bochman said IT managers are positive about their experience with the network-centric solution.

"Based on user feedback so far, people that have tried it, love it," Bochman said.

According to Bochman the technology can be deployed in stages, allowing users to continue to use their current client hardware, while more ambitious IT managers can move to the next level. He added that additional cost savings can be made by swapping out Microsoft Office for Sun's newly acquired Star Office technology.

"That is where Star Office comes in. It is compatible with Microsoft Office and beyond that a company can save on the cost of the NT license and the Office desktop license," Bochman said.

Sun will market the entire solution to enterprise-level companies for what the company is calling "the service-driven network."

Included in that service-driven network are Application Service Providers according to Gianni.

"The Sun Ray products are one point in 'dot-coming' solutions. It's a good application for the ASP model where a provider wants to provide an end-to-end solution," said Gianni.

In a typical office environment Sun is recommending 20 to 30 users per CPU. The appliance measures 12 inches by 12 inches by two inches thick and has no moving parts.

The products are shipping now and can be either leased for $9.99 per Sun Ray 1 appliance or purchased for $499 with mouse and keyboard. Monitors are not included.

Sun Microsystems Inc., in Mountain View, Calif., can be reached at www.sun.com.

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