Please tell me why I should care about Sun?

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I've been getting lots of crap from the commenters on accusing me of ignoring Sun's desktop virtualization offerings.

I've been getting lots of crap from the commenters on accusing me of ignoring Sun's desktop virtualization offerings. And these people have a point. I have been ignoring Sun. I just don't "get" why anyone would use Sun's solution and I haven't had any hands on experience with Sun over the past few years. So let's change that today. In this article, I'll give a quick overview of where Sun is today, and I'll provide an opportunity for everyone who loves Sun to show me what I'm missing.

So bring it on.

What are Sun's VDI offerings today?

From what I can tell, Sun has four products that make up their desktop virtualization offerings:

  • The Sun Ray client devices, which are thin client devices. (As of yesterday there's also a software version of the Sun client software.)
  • The Sun Ray Software, which is the management server that these Sun Rays connect to.
  • Sun VDI Software, which is the whole back-end VDI system that the Sun Rays can connect into.
  • Sun Secure Global Desktop, the former New Moon software which allows Sun Ray clients to connect to Windows Terminal Server sessions (among other platforms)

Each of these components is priced and licensed separately.

Here's my biggest problem with Sun:

Yesterday Sun released Version 5 of their Sun Ray Software. I tried to download it to check it out and found this:



In other words, the Sun Ray software only runs on Solaris or Linux. The same is true for their VDI software. And for Secure Global Desktop.

This is a problem because I'm a Windows guy. My desktops are Windows. My servers are Windows. My life is Windows. So even if I could download Solaris or Linux and make it work, I don't really know the first thing about it. I don't know how to secure it. I don't know how to patch it. I don't have confidence that I know how to do it "right."

This is a problem in the context of Windows desktop virtualization because I already have to be an expert in Windows in order to deliver those desktops, so using Sun as my back-end means I have to be an expert in Linux or Solaris in addtion to Windows. Contrast that to running a desktop virtualization solution from VMware/Citrix/Microsoft/Quest/Leostream/Ericom/Symantec/2X/HOB/GeNUIT: In each of those cases, I can run my back-end on Windows.

Sun's desktop virtualization architecture

You start with a Sun Ray client, which can be a thin client device, or, as of yesterday, software that you run on Windows:



One thing I'll give Sun credit for is that their new desktop software installed with no complications on Windows 7. :) Just click setup.exe and you're done! Yay!

So the Sun Ray (software client or device) connects to the Solaris- or Linux-based Sun Ray server, which then could further connect to the Solaris- or Linux-based Sun VDI Server and/or the Solaris- or Linux-based Secure Global Desktop server.

But all these things have separate licenses, and you can easily be up over $200 per user for the whole stack. So why would you use this solution versus something from Citrix or VMware? (Seriously, why would you? This is not rhetoric.)

So I don't know? I mean yeah, this new Sun Ray Software supports USB device redirection and 32-bit color and has good Flash video support... But what's the advantage of this stack? Is it for people who already have an investment in Sun? Is it for people who are educational institutions who get huge discounts? Is it for people who love open source? (i.e. hate Microsoft)

Actually Sun has a video on their website about the top 10 reasons to use Sun VDI software. Unfortunately all the advantages the woman lists in the video are general advantages of VDI and server-based computing. They're not about why Sun's particular flavor of VDI is better than the rest.

So I'm asking you, the community: please educate me about Sun. Have you used their VDI software or Sun Rays? What's good? What's bad? Why did you chose it over the competition?

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This comment most probably does not add any value to the discussion except as space filler.

Firstly what it comes to Sun I thought they didn’t even exist anymore other than perhaps as a brand of the acquiring part. Then I learned that the actual transfer is not yet closed as “Closing of the transaction is subject to certain conditions, including clearance by the European Commission.”

In terms of what could be defined as our community, “Sun” has always been in the crescent of the moon whilst “New Moon” was hindered to see through the “Windows”, a dying star that even in its eradication  never came to be a “Red Giant”.

I do not believe in palm reading, quite not “Pro Palms”, but if I were I would not read very favorably the line of life.

In my office I have a unused Sun Ray 2 client standing as an silent guardian for all things wrong (no, really, I do! As per Brian this is NOT rhetoric)


I fully agree with everything you're saying except, you have issue that it only runs on Solaris or does KVM and SPICE but you're a big fan of that hypervisor and display protocol.  Plus, with SPICE, you totally locked into KVM (i.e. can't bring your own hypervisor)

Also, can you confirm the $200 plus for the whole stack?  I thought Sun came in around $99 per CCU, however that was well over a year ago before Oracle got involved.


Taking a swipe at marketing videos is an easy shot. Talk about benefits & cost savings of centralising resources/VDI, talk about your product, (heopfully) punter gets the "savings" associated in their mind with your product. Citrix does this, vmware does this - its not sun trying to be clever.

The Sun solution (imo) is essentially meant to be an aggregator of different display protocols all rolled into being displayed/delivered to one device.

This could be cool - except for the fact that organisations rarely need this. Why not publish a desktop over RDP/ICA and then have terminal emulator apps within your desktop?  

Sun guys often gloss over that mind - as far as I know it does make sales into government - possibly because the sun rays look pretty cool.

Erm... and that's it.


I am sure Craig Bender will show up very soon and comment about it or will post a reply to this article on his website...

My take on this? I remember years ago meeting with the guys from Tarantella (spin off from SCO if you remember that) way before Sun acquired them. My question was EXACTLY the same, 10 years ago: "All your stuff runs on Unix and 99% of all my customers are Windows, so how can you sell this?". Plus at the time they were really a connector to NT4 TSE so why add another layer to get to a Windows backbone? It was stupid.

Sun had a different vision I guess and acquired that company! Unbelievable. Huge waste of money IMHO.

Fast forwarding 5 or 6 years I had a large customer using SunRays to connect to a Citrix backend. The Citrix ICA client was so buggy compared to the Windows one their users simply hated Citrix. Agreed the issue was on the Citrix end but again, why use that to connect to Citrix if you can use way more common hardware to achieve the same?

For sure they have some cool ideas/technologies with the SunRay but in terms of market share they are a HUGE niche (they always say the US Military use them...) and I am almost sure that particular division is not even profitable. Again, huge niche.

If you are looking for a niche solution and you have deep pockets and you drank the Sun Kool-Aid, go for it.

I do not buy it and do not recommend it to any of my customers.



Wait... Without looking it up I now feel a bit confused about New Moon and Tarantella. My thoughts were that they were the one and same, but it all blends in the mixer at the end of my memory lane ;-)

Care to enlight with a guest article of the more obscure players in plain SBC from ca. 1998 onward?


Today's product lineage:

New Moon Canaveral IQ was sold to Tarantella (which itself was spun out from SCO).  Then Sun bought Tarantella, kept the *ix portion of Secure Global Desktop, and licensed the Windows side off to Propalms.

There's a timeline in an article Brian wrote in 2005 here.


I'm very confused on your blogs. Most of the time I find your material great to read, but in this article I see to much misunderstandings. I hope this is not happening with other articles.

There is just a single license (per user) for the products you mention which is called Sun VDI. In EU this is just EUR 124,- for Sun Ray, SGD, Sun Ray server software and Virtual Box in the backend.

Why you should choose Sun VDI: the choices you have in the platform. It support multiple clients (Sun Ray as well as other devices with browser or RDP client) and it supports multiple virtualization back-ends  (in parallel).

But one of the most important things is the zero-admin feature of the Sun Ray device. It works within 30 secs after you unpacked the box and that remains during its whole lifecycle (which is much more then the 3 - 4 years PC lifecycle).

I think you need some more time to invest in the solution before you write an article like this. And there you have a point, Sun is not that good compared to other vendors in telling their story with white-papers and so on.


The Sun Ray product line is more than a niche as suggested.

It is a truly THIN client, not a chubby client with an embedded OS of some sort.  Nor does the Sun Ray download an OS on boot.  ALL processing takes place on the backend server.  This allows for some very cool features like hotdesking.  Hotdesking is the ability of the user to login with a smartcard and have their session follow from Sun Ray to Sun Ray just by moving the smartcard to a different appliance.  This feature also works with the built in Cisco EZVPN client that the SR comes with so users can have a SR at home (or any where in the world) and carry their session with them.  A user need only to reinsert their smartcard and type their password to pick up where they left off.  And while the card is "pulled", processing keeps on going on the server.  Power failures and accidental "unplugs" are no longer an issue because, again, the SR session stays on the server.  Your transaction finishes just fine!    

As for VDI, it has a wide variety of uses.  It is a great platform for a college or university to deliver many types of OSes for learning to students.  Because it uses VirtualBox to deliver them on the backend via RDP, it is easy to use and setup.  VDI is also a great platform for software developers.  It allows a developer to have access to multiple platforms to test their code, all served from a central server.

And for the "green", a Sun Ray 2 runs on 4 watts of power, monitor not included, which makes it extremely cheap to use.  There is virtually no heat generated by the unit.  Since it is stateless, if it is stolen, the would be thief has a very attractive brick.  Your data is SAFE and SECURE on the server as it should be.  You can't store SSNs or credit card numbers on the SR appliance.  There is no OS on the unit to patch.  Only firmware which is pushed from the server.  The ROI is huge!  Many of the original appliances are still in use after 10 years!    

While I think we can all agree that Sun does a terrible job at marketing (hopefully Oracle can change that), I also agree with jaapr, you need to set up a system and try it.  Yes, I am a Solaris admin and an avid Sun Ray supporter (not a Sun employee) so I do know how to set it up and make it work.  But keep in mind, when it comes to setting up Windows servers, I do as most and go to Auntie Google and she helps me through the install issues I have with Windows.  So take the plunge, have a sip of "Sun Kool-Aid".  


Hi Brian and hello Claudio,

You're right I will join the conversation.

First of all, SGD, the former Tarantella product was not meant as a competitor to TSE and or Citrix.  It was develop as a BUI based broker to allows multiple clients, (Windows, Macs, Linux, Solaris -- including Sun Ray) to connect to Windows Terminal Server / VDI sessions, X11, 3270, and 5250 applications servers.  I can't speak to why Tarantella bought New Moon, perhaps that *was* a move to compete with Citrix.  However that was pre-Sun and has zero bearing on this discussion.  What does have bearing is that SGD is a very flexible solution for customers that use more than just Windows.  There are still a lot of mainframes in production today.  Just ask IBM.

There are multiple reasons why people choose Sun Ray.  Contrary to the focus of this blog, there are more than just Windows users out there.  There are people that want a true zero admin client.  There are entities concerned with security that do things like "penetration testing" of clients in which the Sun Ray is the only client that passes.  And Claudio, while it's interesting to see your opinion of our financial performance, you are wrong.  Do you really think Sun Ray is still around in the 8 plus years of post bust turmoil that Sun Microsystems has been through being some sort of "loss leader"?

I will give you that we've been out marketed.  That's the Sun story.  We've never been good at it, whether it's Sun Rays or Servers.  

There are other benefits to the Sun Ray solution such as the protocol. The  Sun Ray protocol (ALP) performs extremely well where others fall down.  Call center in India and Data Center in the US?  Try that with RDP or ICA without having packet shapers in the mix.  

Furthermore, I'd be more than happy to set you up with joint Citrix/Sun Ray customers that are extremely happy with the solution.

Sun also offers choice with it's solutions.  We support 3 hypervisors.  You can choose between Linux desktops (yes, people use that), Solaris, and multiple flavors of Unix.

Again, I'll offer Brian, Gabe, or whomever wants to look a Sun Ray the chance to do so.  A screen shot of the new client isn't really a review.  I understand that analysts are busy people and don't have the time it take to really understand the full value of our solution.  Unfortunately for some, this means using an operating system other one provided by Microsoft and protocols offered by Citrix or VMWare. Sadly, this value doesn't translate well into slideware or web pages, but shines in the day to day administration of the solution.  Happy to set you up with customers to talk to as well.

But what would really make me happy is for you to finally take me up on a demo.  Imagine if you only heard about Citrix but never used it.  What kind of authority would that make you?  I know you don't have time to build out an environment, we'll do that for you.  We can just send Sun Rays pre-configured to connect back, maybe even to a server in Singapore so you can see the benefits of the protocol.


Craig Bender

Sun Microsystems


Sorry, typo.

Meant to write:

You can choose between Linux desktops (yes, people use that), Solaris, and multiple flavors of *Windows*.


Hi Brian,

I work in a heterogeneous environment ( Windows, Solaris, and Linux).  Most servers are Windows based.

We also have a mix of clients, Mac, Win, and Solaris.  We also have SunRays.  We like them for several reasons:

Zero admin time at the client.  No maintenance at all, ever.  

We can present a Solaris desktop or a Windows desktop depending on user preference.  Using kiosk mode, a Windows user will only see a standard Windows desktop login.  There is no indication that they aren't on a Windows desktop.

Uptime.  The SunRay server software has been running for more than 300 days of continuous uptime.  Since this is an application on top of a server and OS, that is pretty good news (the server is an x86 based Sun and the OS is Solaris x86).  The Win 2003 server has had to be rebooted several times (mostly for updates).  

The SunRay is completely stateless.  When you turn it off, it has no data on it.  This has been verified by the NSA.  Although we rarely travel out of the US, it is kind of cool to have a thin client in a laptop looking format that has no hard disk drive.  Go thru Customs, "Sure examine my laptop as much as you'd like.  It has no data on it."  I honestly don't understand why any executives travel with anything else.

Happen to be in a country where the government might want to examine your laptop while you are out at dinner?  No problem.  Worried about the evil maid?

No evil maid worries with a SunRay.

You can connect wirelessly to your network.  Again, with a laptop like SunRay, you can use an AT&T wireless USB device and get good (very acceptable) performance.  Our users don't know where their Exchange based email being displayed by Outlook is coming from, West Coast or East Coast.

It isn't the right tool for everyone but in a general office environment, probably 75% of the folks can use them.

They are noiseless and produce essentially no heat.  

They do smart card authentication and integrate with AD.

I have had a SunRay with 2 24" monitors for a couple of years.  I fought like mad to keep my PC but now I am very comfortable with it.  Plus the workspace is quieter and cooler.

ALP is very adaptable and very efficient (IMHO).

We have 7 year old SunRays still working fine.  The server has been upgraded but zero changes at the client side (except we switched from tubes to LCD monitors).

The Windows admins worry about 2 servers (excluding Exchange, SQL and other service providing servers) instead of also worrying about 150 Windows based desktops and what their users are doing.  

Like any tool, it has appropriate use cases.  But I like both your blog and my SunRay.


Great to hear from you finally Craig! Have emailed you several times with no response so it is great to know you are still active with the SunRays! The power of a simple blog post! Awesome.

Great to know as well that the SunRay division is profitable. In terms of marketing I guess you may be correct. The reality is, due to poor marketing, the SunRays became indeed a niche compared to the other offerings on the market.

I am not mentioning or comparing its technical capabilities and not even saying they are superior or inferior. But in terms of market share, it is indeed a niche, the same way Macs are (and I am a Mac user).

For mixed environments where users need access to Windows hosted desktops, Solaris, TS, Citrix they do fit perfectly I think but as most of the SBC market relies on TS/Citrix only (on Windows) in that particular case I do not see a strong reason to use them. Note that is my own opinion.

Also depending on how you have your 'thin client' environment setup you can simply remote boot these (like I do at home) and in that respect I have NOT touched/managed all my thin clients since I turned them on back in 2002. They may not be able to run all the bells and whistles the latest ICA client can give me but they do work and again, with zero management or footprint. No local OS, no local disk, no local data. The problem with that approach is it does not work on an airplane or on a boat cruise in the middle of the Pacific. :-)

I would love to see an in-depth review of the SunRays to clear up any misconception/misunderstanding we all, the market, may have about them and if you want I am up for the task and will post all the results either here (Brian allowing) or on my blog. You know how to find me.



Brian,  thanks for a all the great articles but I think you are missing the boat on this one.  I am the CTO for a South African based infrastructure company and only use Sunray with Provision Networks oops vWorkspace as the broker.  Believe me it really works well although I might add Sun still have some work to do with the Sun connector for Windows as this is not on par with RDP 7 and the Win32 options available.   I have had many discussion with Patrick Rousse, Peter and Paul Ghostine when they were still around over Provsion needing support for Sunray.  I guess it is typical of everything in life in that vendors will only support what the masses request.  For us using any thin client being that CE, XPe, Linux whatever is crap as you will never move away from the endpoint support;  Why replace a PC with another Windows based OS as a thin client, where is the logic in that.  Agreed that you do loose some of the bells and whistles with Sunray but depending on the use case I will much rather use Sunray than anything else.  As far as cost is concerned it is not expensive at all.  The Sunray 2 device is $200 list price and the Solaris OS is for free unless you want to pay for support.  The only other bit you need is the broker and in our case vWorkspace.  As for the back end you can get away with relative cheap servers as in this type of configuration the Solaris server only acts as a redirector to the Windows desktop.  One can easliy support 20+ Sunray's on 1 processor core, scalability is great.  Below an email copy and paste to Patrick Rousse explaining some of the immediate benefits that Sunray brings to us specifically.  Now I know in your world and many of the contributors here think that some of the below cannot be true, well believe me it is.  Any comments is welcome.  Regards.

- The Solaris OS being free

- Smartcard authentication built right in and we are using it for roaming between desks and it really works well

- True stateless device

- 4W of power needed to run for the Sunray 2, 8W for the Sunray 2FS and 40W for the Sunray 270 – all of the differ in functionality

- Power consumption is a huge problem in Africa as there is not enough of it the same about bandwidth where 64K diginet lines are common

- Using the Sunray 2 with 17” monitor the power consumption is around 70W about a 40-50% saving in power compared to a pc whilst in use

- Using the Sunray 2 FS with 2 x 17” monitors I have not done the calculation but it offers the same as the Sunray 2 but with 2 x monitors and a fiber port if one decides not to use Ethernet to the desktops for secure environments or customers willing to spend a fortune

- Using the Sunray 270 with build in 17” display the nominal power consumption is between 37W-42W a saving of 70% compared to a pc

• In South Africa the power grid is so unstable what we switch to diesel generator regularly and with using Sunray we can run so many more users whilst the generator runs that compared to PC’s

Apart from the power consumption the following:

  • Eco friendly

  • No memory

  • No processor

  • No fan

  • No noise

  • No hard drive in fact no OS as it uses the ALP protocol (Application Link Protocol) from Sun Microsystems similar to ICA

  • No street value, i.e. you steal it cannot be used at another customer

  • Data protection, no CDROM, of USB access (if you choose so) leading to a cost saving in having to secure USB ports which by the way can only be done by:

  • Either using Windows 2008 server and Vista with SP1 or XP with SP3 I serious cost for doing something relatively simple

  • Or a 3rd party product like Safeboot the locks USB’s

- Warranty of 5 years with a lifespan of 12 so one can easily miss 3 -4 PC refresh cycles compared to traditional options

- No management as everything is done from the data enter

- One copy of the actual OS

- Load balancing and HA part of Solaris for free

- Extremely low on server resources as one depending on your implementation can run up to 35 Sunray’s on 1 x86 processor core


The Solaris and SRS5 software is installed in 30 minutes, then your Windows desktops are ready.

The Sunray philosophy make it possible to separate keyboard / mouse signals and graphical signals. You can have iptv on your SunRay when using a graphical server for rendering.

In the Netherlands the sunrays got a HIER logo, meaning that the Dutch governement tells all schools to use these green ultra thin clients (just 10 Watt electricity)

cordially, Roland Sassen


Great comments everyone. Yes, absolutely, I'd love to get my hands on this. I don't know if I can do it on my own, so I'll arrange to visit Sun and spend some time with the products. (I'll bring the cameras.)

Finally, I know that a screenshot doesn't make a review... I hope there was no misunderstanding here.. This article is NOT a review.. it's just a conversation starter about why people would use Sun.


I'm bringing it:

It's about choice for the consumer and using the product that best aligns with the business tactic.

Your statement "this is a problem because I'm a Windows guy", the problem is _your only_ a Windows guy.

Heck, I work at a small nonprofit business with less than 200 employees, and myself and another tech support WinXP, Win2k3, Win2k8 R2, RHEL, I5OS, and Solaris.  I'm a jack of all trades by necessity.  

Heterogeneous environments are practically the norm these days, yet you haven't seemed to expand your practical knowledge or experiences within that framework.  Dude, there's more than Windows out there :)

Best wishes,



WHEW! Great discussions. Here's my $.02.

First of all, Windows. I happen to be using a Vista workstation at the moment and I like it fine. It does what I need and doesn't break all the much.

I also use Ubuntu and Solaris. My workstation is dual-boot so I can fire up either environment and use VirtualBox on Solaris for everything else. This is a recent configuration and seems to be working out well.

What does that have to do with Sun Ray and Sun xVM VDI? Well, I run the VDI software on the Solaris environment and drive Sun Ray 2's for testing, customer configuration scenarios, etc.

OK, now down to the topic at hand. Why Sun Ray?

Well, other that it being the coolest technology on the planet, here is what I tell my Customers:

Secure - no local OS; no local apps; no local data, not even cached!, smartcard access control built-in not added on; thief leaves with nothing useful; the rest is securely tucked away in the data center.

Long Life - no moving parts; 200,000 hours MTBF; stretches the refresh cycle

GREEN! - only 4 watts! compare to 80+ watts for a PC; no noise; meets current environmental standards internationally.

Simple - easy deployment; centrally managed; simple replacement if needed.

I thought of one other thing today. As the economy begins to recover and customers start to return, are businesses going to ramp up revenue producing resources or revenue consuming reources? With Sun Ray you can drive thousands of desktops per FTE because there are no knobs to turn at the desktop.

For Windows only shops, there is the ability to pool users and assign the pool a template giving each pool the Microsoft OS their applications require and the configuration the shop is going to permit.

For IT shops migrating from TSE to say VMware, there is the ability to connect the user to either one from the same desktop. No worries about protocols or device drivers. The RDP connector (or ICA, you pick) runs on the Sun Ray server and connects the user to right desktop provider.

OK, I'm done. There are just to many features and capabilities to get them all in here. Just leave it that the product can be configured to do just about anything with very few exceptions and that list is getting shorter with each release.

Please do take Craig up on his offer. I know him well, and I'm sure you will find the product very full-featured even for a Windows-only shop.

Art Peck

Managing Member & Principal Consultant

Arthur H. Peck & Associates, LLC


I agree this is a great discussion. I too work with heterogeneous environments but also dedicate my career to Citrix and their suite a products. We are a sun partner and reseller so with that we have some great Unix and Linux technicians which gives me some great knowledge of the "other side" being the Citrix guy. I get a great insight as to what the world offers outside of Windows.

Sometimes these discussions kind of tend to become a "Ford vs Chevy" kind of debate when it really should be about business requirements and that those requirements should be what defines the technology. We as a company would never recommend a pure windows solution to a pure Unix/Linux shop nor would be the reverse. Introducing SGD into a pure windows shop only means that either the company needs to hire or train people to fit the non Windows technology on top of changing the landscape of supporting a new platform.

Brian Madden in this blog is trying to understand why Sun? One always needs to be informed when making technology investments whether you are a manager or a technical person. As an example I have had conversations with pure Sun techs who rave about the smart cards of their Sun Ray product and the hot desktop feature but are surprised when I explain to them the same features can be had with "Smooth Roaming" within XenApp/XenDesktop. Out of the box the Smooth Roaming does not have a smart card but it certainly can be configured in the same way.  

I also had conversations with Sun reps that have stated that if you already have a Citrix/XenApp solution then using SGD will probably not make sense. Especially since Citrix does not seem to be in a hurry to update the Unix ICA client on a regular basis. However, if you have a Sun Ray investment and require the need to connect to Windows based applications on Windows based servers/desktops along with using Linux/Unix based applications, then SGD might be the fit. Nothing is stopping you from implementing a combination of options.

Whatever the decision you make for your VDI or thin client solution make sure it fits the need of your business. In my personal opinion I have worked XenDesktop, View, and SGD and I do tend to lean towards XenDesktop as the one that offers the most flexibility because the other offerings are mostly a pure VDI solution. My 2 cents.


Ok, two questions comments about the whole "zero client" thing.

First, people keep on talking about a Sun Ray being the only zero client out there. But I don't think that's true. Pano's client is a "zero client" too, as is a PCoIP client with the chip in it. (And now thanks to View 4, that's now available to general VDI and not just blade PCs.)

Second, I don't understand how a Sun Ray is a zero client if they still have firmware in them that has to be managed. I remember when the ALP multimedia redirection came out awhile ago.. Didn't that require a firmware update to the Sun Ray client device, and if so, how's that a zero client?


To answer the original question (considering market share and time in the market)

You shouldn't


Wow.If anything, then certainly a lot of noise from the trenches. I congratulate Brian for the courage to bring this up.

By many this issue needs to be addressed. I fully agree with Brian’s initial post, as I do agree with Jeroen a bit earlier.

In my mind the all things “thin” should be swept away without further ado – I would even further guess that this is the majority standpoint. For being all things Sun, all things Citrix, all things other ways, things, other, I claim to be telling the truth.

Please vanish!


Doesn't PanoLogic only work with View? No XenDesktop, vWorkspace?


@Tony, I think Pano only works with ESX and their own VDI broker and management system. So yes. But this is just like Sun.. the Sun Rays only work with the Sun Ray server. I think that's no different than Pano.


The Sun Ray customers I know of are all generally very happy. It is a different approach to the problem than other solutions. There is a Sun host which acts as the master processor, it runs the various protocol clients and creates the frame buffer which is pushed down to the stateless client.

The Sun host, in essence, does the client side processing for multiple Sun Rays  leaving the hardawre client as a true "display onlly" device. There are a plenty of valid uses cases, most of which involve environments that already use UNIX based apps which are delivered to the end users.

It is a cool device and has the best hot swap support in the industry in which the user can truly move between terminals just by swiping there card without complex multi-authentication schemes and hands offs between systems.

However, it really is a best fit for a UNIX or heterogeneous environment since it involves adding a UNIX host to the environment. Also, it puts a large amount of data over the Ethernet connection to allow the end device not to have to render the client session


Very different from Pano.  Can Pano offer Terminal Services?  Can Pano offer Linux?  Unix?  Just a Firefox browser w/o windows?  No

Isn't interesting that folks from Sun went to Pano?  Isn't interesting that PCoIP brags on their UDP based protocol?  I wonder where they got that idea?  Who from Sun used to work there?  I wonder why Wyse and other locked down PC vendors are now using our marketing terms.

To answer Brian's question with a a question, how big is their "Zero Client"?  How long does it take to update?  Do they support updating over a WAN?  Or do you need a provisioning server locally?  Is Sun Ray "Firmware" at 1 MB different than a really slim "ThinOS" or other sillyness @ 18 - 30 MB?  How does that translate when doing a feature update over a WAN link?  What happens if you brick a device?  Do you have to visit the device?  Or is there logic in the "firmware" to do an emergency load of the "OS" via tftp?

We regards to "Zero Client", I think you mean Stateless.  If you care to read up on what stateless means (at least to us and the DoD/ISS community) read up here:

It's a huge difference.  I hate to keep talking about the military here, but officers on the battlefield carry a side arm for a number of reasons, one of which is shoot the laptop that contains sensitive information.

Market share is your determining factor?  Then Citrix, VMWare, and hey even Apple should give way to the almighty Windows based PC.  They own you.  Forget about Firefox and Opera.  Who needs choice when IE owns the market?

Granted, thin clients aren't right for everyone, but they do have their place.  Isn't it funny Wyse, Igel, HP, Pano,  and others keep trying copy the Sun Ray selling points?  Did you ever hear of stateless clients before Sun Ray starting winning deals from Wyse?  

Like Brian, I was a Windows guys.  I cut my teeth on a product called WinView from a little company called Citrix selling an OS/2 product.  I've seen all the thin clients out there.  I *chose* to work for the best one I found.

Finally, it's not just a Windows world out there.  Choice is good.  Sun Ray on it's own is broker agnostic.  Sure we'd love you to use Sun VDI.  But feel free to use what you want.  Sure you'll have to run Solaris or Linux on the Sun Ray Server layer, but you don't need to worry about that anymore than you worry about what "OS" your printer is running.  What?  You're printer doesn't run an OS?  Are you sure?  Oh, right....It's just firmware.




To address Clayton.  We've been in the "market" since 1999.  Exactly two families of Thin Clients.  Sun Ray 1 and Sun Ray 2.  The latter because of RoHS.  8 Models over 10 years.  As exercise to you, compare and contrast that to other Thin Client vendors who  EOL models faster than PC's.  Feel free also to Google the terms Sun and VDI and see how long we've been doing it.

But then again, ignorance is bliss.



An interesting topic and discussion.  From my post you'll see I've spent a lot of time thinking about this question over the years.  First, about firmware.  It is true that over time Sun has added more features directly into the firmware.  This includes built-in Cisco EasyVPN support, Flash acceleration etc.  Also every release and most patches include optimizations requiring an upgrade to the firmware.  I guess the size of the operating environment is just a matter of degrees and with thin clients less is more.  Embedded Linux / Windows CE based "thin" terminals are on one end, Sun Ray (maybe Pano?) is closer to the other end.  Firmware is pushed to the Sun Rays from the server, you don't need to be anywhere near the device to upgrade and reboot.  As with everything Sun Ray, sit on the server and see all connected devices, activity and network latency.  It's rarely about the end point, it's all about the server.

As you can tell from other posts, Sun Ray is of most interest to folks who prefer Solaris / Linux, but might have to tolerate Windows.  I personally fall into this category, I am more interested in engineering than marketing, I'm Sun Ray's target market, here's my story.

Last year I was the CTO of a small health care cost containment company where I deployed Sun Rays on a shoe string budget.  Out of the gate security was one of my top priorities.  When I arrived Citrix was already in place and was accessed through unmanaged XP boxes in various states of disrepair, not even close to an optimal or secure network.  Instead of putting two new PCs into service on desktops, I loaded them up with RAM and built Sun Ray Servers in a redundant Fail Over Group, configured office printers and loaded the Citrix ICA client.  The two users got Sun Rays instead, loved them, much faster than what they replaced.  Over the next six months every new user or dying PC was replaced with a Sun Ray.  Upgrading to an enterprise anti-virus was enough to take down several of the older PCs.  When I left we almost had the whole production floor converted.  Citrix was easily the weakest link in the whole deployment, Sun Rays were nearly transparent, dissolved into the network like a hub.  Fire and forget?  More like fire and ignore.

The goal was to make the office (and other remote sites) completely stateless, no attack vector outside the data center.  I didn't want a bunch of embedded Linux or Microsoft CE "thin" terminals, I wanted the full benefits and realization of thin computing.  Work at home users could access via built-in VPN, no longer worrying about key loggers installed by kids surfing on parents laptops.  I also wanted the option to deploy an open source desktop to key user communities.

I virtualized our backend servers using VMWare ESX and prior to leaving I evaluated VDI solutions from Citrix, VMware and Sun so I have some outdated idea of what is offered by each company.

If you want to load a CD and click Next a few times to get a canned and limited solution, then Citrix or VMware have that down pretty good, VMware a bit better.  Sun has a platform in Sun Ray, it extends the Unix X11 environment to stateless clients over thinner pipes.  Sun Ray is a palette, your deployment is mainly limited by your imagination and Unix skills.  Sun's VDI product is just an excellent example of a solution built on this architecture to chase the VDI market.

As part of a group who deployed X-terminals to 7,000 users in 14 states back in the early 90's, I've seen this model work in large mission critical call centers.  All of this done with zero local administrators, they flew in for major upgrades.  Sun Ray improves and extends this model.  Sun Rays are agile, other solution stacks are very static and single purpose.

Keep up the conversation!



Apologies my post was a little blunt (it's been a long day) but my point about "time in the market" aligns exactly to your comment. Sun have been doing this for years....

So why is the market penetration so poor???

As much as I don't like the monopolistic aspects of our industry, they do create specific eco systems that in turn can significantly reduce the risk of deployment (particularly in respect of skills availability).

I woud suggest that if an analyst posts an article with a title like this.......something is seriously wrong with the goto market strategy of the vendor.


Wow! I often see guys refusing to be open minded, they stagnate. But every once in a while I meet someone that wants to develop, and I try to be like that. Try to do new things all the time, break habits. I see that you Brian is one of those guys. Being Windows guy entire life, and now willing to look outside your well known world. That is great and you will learn and develop much! For that it takes lots of effort and courage, but it is only you that will benefit.

For the Pano thin client, yes I suspect they are similar to SunRay. But SunRay has been doing this for many years. Pano is new kid on the block, having inspiration from SunRay.

For the SunRay. It is more like an I/O device, just like a dumb keyboard or mouse. It will send input to the server, and the server will send back bitmap pictures. Nothing is processed on the SunRay. This is truly thin client. No moving parts, the MTBF is 22 years. Weigh 0.38kg and uses 4W. The SunRay client hardware can not be upgraded. They never break.

Normally, a thin client has a weak CPU and 128MB RAM, which sucks. You need to upgrade the RAM, patch the OS, etc. What is the difference to having a very weak PC?

The SunRay OTOH, uses the server CPU for all processing. If you need more power, then upgrade the server and all SunRays has got more processing power at once. One core can drive 5 heavy SunRay Office clients. An quad core can drive 20 heavy office users. One SUN T4600M2 machine, has 8 AMD quad cores, it can drive 120 SunRay users using Windows.

For the firmware. SunRay firmware is not an OS, like a stripped down Linux or so. Instead, it is more similar to a BIOS. How often do you upgrade BIOS? Very seldom. You just plugin the SunRay to the router, and in a few seconds a login screen will appear. Done.

Solaris/Linux runs the SunRay Server software (SRSS) and when you login, you can choose which OS to boot: Windows, if you wish. In fact, many users only use Windows with SunRays, by VDI.

Microsoft is using SunRays. Can someone please post the whitepaper?

You can install Windows and make Master clone via ZFS snapshots. It takes 1 second. Then you can make as many clones as you want, one for each user. If the Windows user breaks anything, just use ZFS snapshot facility to rollback in 1 second. ZFS adds much power, too.

In fact, you can load a cheap PC with free OpenSolaris, and SunRay server software, and buy refurbished SunRay at ebay 40USD and then you have a silent cheap solution at home.


Here is an example of SunRay user choosing which OS he wants to run: Windows, Linux, etc


@Clayton (and Claudio)

Seriously guys, no apologies needed.  I totally understand long days ( Dad of 5 girls ) and a non-editable comment section isn't the greatest place to have a conversation in the first place.  I've cringed a lot on this thread at the typos I've made.

I've conceded the marketing, but staying power in a market like this does count for something.  There are plenty of companies that are no longer around that got far more press/hype than Sun Ray ever has.

Hopefully Brian and I will be able to schedule time for a nice overview and in person demonstration (we are working that outside this blog comment section).  While Sun Ray and our VDI offering may not be right for Brian or a majority people on this list my goal is to show him why it is right for some.


Hi Brian,

Being an avid reader of your site on a daily basis I am curious to know why you decided not to post my response to the Sunray article?  Was it a genuine oversight or have I said something which I was not supposed to?

Thanks, keep up the excellent work.



Just one point of clarification, Brian. The Sun xVM VDI 3.1 suite includes all the required components: VDI Core, Sun Ray Server Software, Sun Ray Connector for Windows and a single desktop license for SGD. It has one installer and one configurator for the entire environment. Once Solaris or Linux is installed, the VDI install can be done in less than half an hour, more like 15 minutes if you pay attention. If you are going to use VirtualBox, that's a seperate install which makes sense because it's not mandatory. The only external requirement is a name server, usually that's Active Directory which most Windows shops will already have installed. For demos, I use OpenDS, but AD is certainly the preferred option for production installations in Windows shops.


After reading through all the responses, still have the question hanging around - Why?

Not clear to me what value they bring to the table and being in the game for so long, does not autmatically provide that value.



Correct me if I'm wrong, but *if* the type 2 hypervisor model works for your environment, then with VirtualBox you get to skip the licensing that comes along with the type 1 hypervisor and or management system (assuming this is not already in place).  This can relieve a huge licensing burden for simple VDI deployments.

Are there any other VDI players that do not require the enterprise level management software licenses?

However you only offer the quick / space saving cloning on Sun Storage Servers cause you are leveraging ZFS clones, correct?



Would you be able to answer the question Why Citrix, Why VMWare, etc if you've never used them?  Why is there more than one kind of database?  Why are there AS/400's?  Why RISC vs CISC?  Because they fill needs.  Sun VDI fills needs that customers have.

It's a different architecture than most thin clients are there.  If you give it a fair test and you still ask why, then fair enough.

@Art...Just to clarify, Sun VDI 3.x is Solaris only.  Sun Ray Software outside of VDI is Solaris/Linux.  But the unified installer you speak of is Solaris only.


Type 1/Type 2 is fuzzy.  If you use a VM from on ESX from the VIC is that Type 1 or 2?  If you use VirtualBox has a hypervisor and you never ever use the VBox console is that a 2 or 1?  Distinction is fuzzy at best and mostly a marketing term to dictate use cases, not actual suitability to a task, especially when it comes to VirtualBox.

Yes, ZFS technology is what gives us space savings.  It's part of the value of the solution.



I guess I was using type 1, 2 as a distinction between bare metal hypervisors and host based.  Host based tend to consume more resources per VM, which could effect the TCO of the solution depending on your provisioning needs.  I honestly haven't hosted more than one VirtualBox host, and that on MacOS X.  Solaris + multiple VirtualBox VMs might give ESX on the same hardware a run, I just don't know.  Sounds like a great topic for a review.

I'd like to also point out to the folks an interesting aspect of the VirtualBox deployments.  With Sun VDI using VirtualBox as it's hypervisor, each VM connects directly to it's image via iSCSI.  This in contrast to VMFS hosted files that then connects to storage.  Seems unique to me.

As far as Why?  It's a personal question.  This thread is filled with reasons, depending on who you are.  I suspect Brian left the question vague for a purpose.

Look at TCO if your interested in the cost.

Look at ALP vs. ICA vs. PCoIP for user experience.

Look at security if that is important.

Look at management, architecture, choice and future proofing.

Sun is relevant in all of these discussions.  They "got it right" 10 years ago, and have proven it evolves with the market.  Who knows, maybe a red label on the side of the boxes will help with the marketing.


Hi Louis,

Sorry that post didn't make it - we don't moderate posts as they are posted (only when flame wars start up).  I think it had something to do with some special characters that were in there being caught by our comment spam scrubber.  I cleaned out the characters and published it, so it should be available.



On reflection, maybe 38 responses to your post means that you need to least a little bit !!



Why so angry? ;)

I'm not going to defend Brian because everyone is entitled to their own opinion (including you and Brian).  However, I did want to correct one piece of misinformation.  Brian stopped teaching training classes last year when his company was acquired by TechTarget.  I was teaching those classes in cooperation with Brian and I continue to teach them today.  And while I am  a Microsoft MVP and a Citrix CTP, I'm far from a Citrix lover.  It's a tool to accomplish a job, that's it.  If you dislike it so much, you can find alternatives (they are out there).  BTW, I have no real beef with Sun/Sunrays.  I have little experience with them myself, but that's primarily because I'm not a big fan of thin clients overall.  In my opinion, the industry changes too fast to really make thin clients worth the ROI.  I'm not saying that they won't work for anyone because  do have clients using thin clients.  However, many of the companies I consult for have been down the thin client path with various different vendors, various different protocols and various different TC OSs and they always end up going back to PCs.  Again, this has just been my (and my clients) experiences.  YMMV of course.



Hi Gabe,

Thanks for getting the post through.  As per Meow request herewith the link to the Microsoft/Sunray engineering whitepaper.  First article in the list:




Excellent point about the longevity of traditional thin clients.  That's been a design principle behind Sun Ray from day 1.  How many 10 year old PC's or Thin Clients can be used today?  The first Sun Ray 1 sold in 1999 can be used with our latest offering.  While there are some differences (like IPSec VPN is only available on SR 2 since the 100mhz chip in the SR1 just didn't have enough horsepower), but for the most part if you want better performance on the Sun Ray, you upgrade the server.


Having been a Sun Ray admin for 4+ years now, I couldn't imagine going back to an environment without them. Of course we still have some desktop systems for people that have special requirements, CAD, photoshop, etc. But for users that just need the basics like email, web browser, word processor and spreadsheet it's a god send. I think we have about 110 computer users and 10 of them aren't using Sun Rays.

So far the worst thing that has happened is a single Sun Ray 1G failed. Total downtime for that employee and total time for me fixing the problem by replacing the unit was less than 10 minutes. If we used Windows and actual PC's I'd spend at least 10 minutes fixing problems every single day before it even hit lunch time. Not 10 minutes per 4+ years. Of course there is definitely job security in a Windows world... Sun Rays pretty much run  themselves once you set them up.

I'm eagerly awaiting for 2010 when our current contract runs out so Sun can come out and renegotiate and show us the new VDI possibilities first hand. For personal use I always run Ubuntu and I am eager to be able to run that at work via VDI.


@CraigBender Yes in that respect I can definitely see a huge benefit if compared to regular Thin Clients. Many cannot for example access the latest Citrix features as the ICA client on them cannot be updated (usually these with Windows CE or Linux) so the whole concept you can run them for a long time is bogus, what on the Sun Rays this is indeed true. I guess what is missing is ALP on Windows Server so people that do not want to have anything with Linux/Solaris could run the Sun Ray Server Software on Windows! Something to think about, heh? Pricewise from what I could see the Sun Rays (the hardware) seems to be competitive and au par with XPe Thin Clients, if not cheaper.

I will definitely take a look at them and write a decent review.

Thanks for contacting me by the way Craig.


I've already provided some feedback to, Claudio Rodriguez' blog, so feel free to check my multiple comments on his blog also.

Back to commenting here. Many things have been said already, and many diverse feelings and arguments have been brought forward.

So, let's step one step back:

1.) There are only two VDI vendors world-wide, who can offer a two-step VDI solution, those are Sun Microsystems and Microsoft. Microsoft needs an additional HW vendor to supply the necessary servers, Sun needs (not in all cases! Then, Sun would be the ONLY one-stop shopping VDI provider) Microsoft licenses for those, that want to virtualize MS.

2.) Sun's VDI offering is more complete:

2a.) The Thin Client (Sun Ray)

2b.) The hypervisor (many: xVM hypervisor (aka Xen) (although not yet used in VDI), or VirtualBox, or even additional usage of VMware. And: They can be used simultaniously, it's no either/or, it's a"choose, what you want and feel comfortable with")

2c.) The managing framework (part of the VDI offering)

2d.) The protocol brokers (so, that RDP, ICA, can all be used to provide the virtualization "backend")

2e.) And then there also is SSGD (ex-Tarantella)

No other VDI vendor is able to provide so many facets. That might make it difficult to understand, what's what, and what to use where, and what's really needed. So that, when you start to dive into Sun's desktop virtualization world, needs to be looked at, and examined in more and profound details.

Then, as has already been pointed out, the Thin Client (Sun Ray) and its protocol offer build in features, that others do now understand and add to their offereings as an add-on (smart-card authentification, and session-following).

If you only start and want to look at the Windows based solution, then the whole VDI suite seems the way to go for you. Still, even that does offer more, then you need... ;-)

But you could also look at the individual pieces, like the Sun Ray or SSGD, or the usage of the protocol broker, or VirtualBox. All these alone would make for a great and decent review.

Then, looking at the overall solution, there are additional topics, that need to be considered: TCO, ROI, Security, to name a few. I guess, it's obvious and common understanding, that Solaris is a.) the best OS, when looking at scaling with multi-CPUs on this planet. This is needed, once you want to place real big numbers of desktops onto very little servers. Then b.) Solaris is also with no doubt the most secure OS, and puuting for example the virtualized hosts (aka VirtualBox) into a Solaris Container does offer more then only security. It also offers great managebility. And it additioanlly would offer great HA capabilities (not yet used in VDI 3.X) by deploying Solaris Cluster with the Zone/Container Agent. That would make your overall availability numbers even more impressive, then what you would already see today with the failover config solution in Sun VDI.

Looking at TCO, it also is important to look at the one-stop-shopping and one-stop-servicing offerings. It removes the headaches, as Sun is taking care, and the only point of contact. These are features and options, you might seem to neglected from a pure technical standpoint, but are very important points for many (if not all commercial) customers. Looking also at for example the a bit older Sun X4600 M2, it's the only box offering 1 TB of RAM in an x86 commercial server. As we all know from, memory is the main limiting factor in virtualization enviroments. So, here also Sun shines.

With that I'll stop here, and hope, that you will have enough time and an open enough mind, once you meet Craig. He most surely will not be able to show you all, what's possible in the time, that you both will have together, but rest assured, there's way more then what you perceive today in Sun's offering.



Seriosly guys. Who cares a bit about Sun Ray when the fabolous JavaStation totally rocks both the known and the unknown universe :-)


Finally, after three days of fighting, I was able to add a comment. I tried it with Firefox from Solaris/Sparc, with Firefox from Windows XP, but it seems, that only IE from Windows is able to post comments here... (that was my last attempt, I do not like IE, and really seldomly do use Windows)

Gabe, Brian, you need to do some serious fixing to this web-page, I DID post that above comment at least 6 times successfully (as indicated by the green box appearing after the post!) via diverse firefoxes from diverse systems. It never worked... ;-(

Also my registration failed (partially), I never got the initial temp-pw, although the box stated, that it did send out that email... Also recovering the PW never worked, the email never reached me!

Thanks to Brian, who by hand did fix the first problem (creating the account)! But the second seems to be a more serious problem.

Too much focus on Windows and Microsoft? ;-)

OK; happy to finally have succeeded in posting a comment after close to three days, and at least in total 4 wasted hours...

Lessons learned? Use MS, if you want to post to a blog of a MS afficionado... But I don't know, if I will follow that route... ;-)



If I use a commodity disk less PC and leverage PVS, that's also stateless, and I get the latest ICA client etc. I used to be a customer of Sunray's. Very elegant, I really liked using them BUT, as some have pointed out there are existing investments that work on commodity hardware that are good enough. The Sun vision and lack of ability to look beyond just a VDI use cases was the reason I kicked them out. Fancy smart cards provided a great demo, and I cringed at the fact at supporting yet another customer hardware solution. It's cheaper for me to use commodity.That said, I agree they have some good stuff for some use niche use cases in parts on the world. Now that Oracle is involved i have even less confidence in the future of the technology and fear hardware lock in. It's nothing to do with Windows or Unix. Also to be fair I did not yet ALP heavily. I know RGS also had a lot of fans and it sucked BW. I'd be curious to learn how ALP does now that Sun's girlfriend VMware has told them to F off and decided to use bw heavy PCoIP. I.e. Does ALP suck less than PCoIP over the WAN?


@kimmo  (11/11) - NCD were also "active" against Citrix with their SBC offering around the same time as New Moon/Tarantella :-)



NCD, Network Computing Devices. Yeah I have a lot of memories from them (+ 10 or so in the same categroy)

Aside from, as me ;-) being largerly ignored, NCD is yet another icon tó put at display. Please do not mention NCD:s software...


Just watched Brian Madden TV #24.  Nice Sun Ray 2 on Renee's desk there.  If VECD free desktop OSs interested you (even in jest), then there is a great reason to be interested in Sun.  Solaris or Linux out the gate, and now Mac desktops.

Craig get's the credit on bring that last one to my attention in January.

Also read The fundamental flaws of thin clients

Again Sun Ray is the answer to many (not all) of his complaints.  I find that interesting.


And now, with the new VDI ( you have the unique option to select between Hyper-V, VMware, VirtualBox as the backend, and Sun Secure Global Desktop, Sun Ray and others as the presentation layer...

The one and only CDI solution with so many choices...



Interesting comments...Craig, you've certainly openned my mind a bit. I do feel for the people behind the Sun VDI "stuff" over the years, as you keep having to reinvent yourselves due to poor marketing, and a lot of industry FUD.

But like anything, you need to understand the use cases, core business apps, support staff, etc.

Not sure how relevant it is, but recently reported by that "Oracle plans to support the Sun VDI connection broker inside Oracle VM Server, providing an end-to-end VDI solution. And this means that the current Sun VDI support for VMware may be dropped soon." I wonder how damaging the lack of VMware support would be for prospective Sun VDI opportunities?




Brian/Craig: what ever happened to the demo of SunRay?  I'd really like to see how ALP performs in comparison to HDX/RemoteFX/PCOIP/etc.. I somehow found myself reading about the latest version of Oracle VDI today and reminded me of this posting.  

Let's see a demo... at least let the product speak for itself.