News Archive (1999-2012) | 2013-current at LinuxGizmos | Current Tech News Portal |    About   

Tiny Linux startup sees through HP-Dell “Recycle” scheme

May 20, 2004 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — views

A New York startup selling Linux-based thin-client management software has called foul on HP and Dell for recent efforts to fund computer recycling programs. Symbio Technologies says the computing giants stand to sell more new PCs if future diskless clients are destroyed, instead of being donated to schools or resold.

Roger Del Russo, co-founder and COO of the five-person company, said he learned of the pernicious plot in a May 19, 2004 New York Times story called “2 PC Makers Favor Bigger Recycling Roles.” “When I read how Dell and Hewlett-Packard wanted to assume more financial responsibility for recycling used computers, I couldn't believe it. I turned to my partner, Gideon Romm, and told him, 'They're taking away future diskless thin clients from our system and other Linux systems. And then they sell new PC's that become old PC's. That's their idea of recycling.'”

“True” recycling

According to Del Russo, “Symbio is a 'true recycler' as we bring back old PC's as part of a powerful and cost-effective network.”

Symbio offers both GPL and commercially licensed versions of management software aimed at simplifying the process of deploying older PCs or new thin-client systems as computing stations in networks based on software from the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP).

PCs as old as Pentium I's with 32MB of RAM — or even less — can serve as robust network clients, according to Del Russo. “Just remove the hard drive, CD-ROM, and floppy disk drives, and connect the reborn PC to a server loaded with our Symbiont Management Suite and you'll have a robust, new computer that runs as fast as your server,” he said.

Del Russo says schools are the primary recycler of older PCs as thin clients, because they often receive technology donations. Most common hardware is very easily configured for use with a Symbiont server, according to Russo. The server downloads hardware-specific modules to client systems when they boot. Such modules may need to be added for extremely rare hardware, but doing so runs only about $20 or $30 in support fees. Essentially any hardware supported by Linux can be supported by Symbiont.

Symbio also maintains a list of new, off-the-shelf thin clients supported by its management suite.

Symbiont Management Suite

Symbio offers both GPL and commercial versions of Symbiont, which aims to ease deployment and maintenance of thin-client networks based on LTSP software, which Symbio makes development contributions to.

“While previous thin client networks could be difficult to configure and administer, we offer a GUI interface and drop-down menus to make it simple and easy,” Del Russo said. Using the $1,300 commercially supported version of Symbiont, Del Russo says, “You can remotely power-on the terminals, see a status report on all running workstations or all logged in users, see where specific users are sitting, kick people off, and you can configure removable media. We did a lot of work with USB storage devices — like floppy drives and pen drives. You can set policies where stations 1 through 10 can't save to removable media, users 11-20 can save to pen drives, etc…”

Server requirements

Network computing systems require a fairly powerful server. Del Russo says a $4,000 server can support 50 users with web browsers, office suites, IM, and email clients, or 100 users who have only a Web browser. An added bonus is the ability to connect servers running different operating systems to the LTSP network. “Our goal is to make computing more pervasive,” says Del Russo. “In our office, we run Quickbooks and other Windows-only applications from a Windows server, and everything else on Linux. Everything runs natively, and we access it all from the same thin clients, at the same time.”

The thin-client outlook

A recent study by IDC, sponsored by Red Hat, forecast a growing role for embedded and other thin client systems on the corporate desktop. The study found that companies such as call centers employing “transactional workers” with fairly limited computing needs were best-positioned to take advantage of the thin-client model. Gartner has also conducted research concluding thin clients can save companies money, according to Symbio. Embedded Linux partners Red Hat and Wind River are taking an interest in the embedded enterprise market, as is MontaVista. IBM has also recently invested in thin-client enterprise technology, while would-be PC recycler HP launched a high-profile line of LTSP clients.

“Symbio can help businesses, schools, libraries, government agencies, and other organizations get more for their technology dollar and increase their user/computer ratio by rejuvenating outdated PCs, bringing them back to life as diskless thin clients,” said Del Russo. “The thin client is a classic 'less is more' approach with no moving parts to break and no embedded software to update or become corrupted. And thin clients use 90% less energy than the outdated PC's that spawned them. Also, with server-based data and software, there's no virus threat on the desktop.”

Del Russo says Symbio expects a growth phase in October, when a number of international interns will join the team, some sponsored by companies hoping they'll return with Linux network computing know-how. The company currently has five employees, and about half a dozen customers it supports directly. “We'll always support some [customers] direct, because it gives us great feedback,” notes Del Russo, who proudly adds that his company provided LTSP terminals for the Press Room at the January, 2004 LinuxWorld in New York's Javitts Center.

“It was a big success,” he adds.

This article was originally published on and has been donated to the open source community by QuinStreet Inc. Please visit for up-to-date news and articles about Linux and open source.

Comments are closed.