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Linux thin client tutorial pushes green benefits

Apr 29, 2009 — by Eric Brown — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 3 views

IBM DeveloperWorks has published a tutorial on “Cloud computing with Linux thin clients.” The introductory tutorial by Jeffrey M. Osier-Mixon looks at Linux thin clients from netbooks to e-books, explores applications for accessing “cloud” resources, and notes the “green” benefits of using… Linux thin devices.

(Click for larger view of Amazon's Kindle 2 –not your father's thin client)

Osier-Mixon, who is a technical writer for MontaVista Software, defines cloud computing as “the use of resources accessed over the Internet,” typically using clients of limited capability. This is essentially the same concept as traditional client-server computing over a LAN using dumb terminals, he explains, but it has been transformed with ample bandwidth and much more compelling, multimedia rich clients and services. In short, “Terminals are no longer dumb, and clients are no longer very thin,” he writes.

The latest trend in cloud computing, suggests the author, is the growing use of mobile devices as thin clients, including smartphones, netbooks, and mobile Internet devices (MIDs). With their low power draw, such devices further add to cloud computing's “green” qualities, which are in growing demand due to high energy prices and the rising awareness of global warming.

A “sudden interest in thin Linux clients”

The increasing use of mobile devices for cloud computing also dovetails nicely with the “sudden interest in thin Linux clients.” Linux makes sense for cloud computing, writes Osier-Mixon, since it matches the required, or at least desired, characteristics of thin clients. These include being customizable, enabling inexpensive hardware, offering inexpensive or free software, being power efficient, and providing a small footprint.

Not only does Linux meet all of these criteria, writes Osier-Mixon, but “with virtualization, Linux can also run applications built for Windows, Mac OS X, and other operating systems. In addition, the “flexibility, developer control, power-management facilities, and overall stability” of Linux are also well suited for using older, recycled systems as thin clients, he adds.

The author then explores the types of Linux applications that thrive in a thin client cloud computing paradigm, including web browsers, email software, and instant messaging clients. Java acts as a capable multi-platform application environment to integrate all these pieces, along with the assistance of some “100,000 embedded Linux developers” worldwide, he writes.

The face of the
new thin client?
Roku Netflix Player

(Click for details)

Osier-Mixon goes on to describe the different types of thin clients, including netbooks, MIDs, and smartphones, and also discusses dedicated embedded devices such as the Amazon Kindle and Roku Netflix Player (pictured). Interestingly, he doesn't even include the increasingly small, low-power, nettop-like devices actually being sold as “thin clients” by vendors like Igel, Wyse, and HP.

Fast booting up to the cloud

The author also suggests that the Linux instant-on, fast-boot environments increasingly made available with Windows computers are essentially Linux thin clients. As a MontaVista employee, Osier-Mixon will be forgiven for noting only the MontaVista-based Latitude ON technology used by Dell; however, several other similar fast-boot environments from Xandros' Presto to Phoenix Technologies' HyperSpace also fit the description.


The IBM DeveloperWorks tutorial, “Cloud computing with Linux thin clients,” by Jeffrey M. Osier-Mixon, should be available here.

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