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The Technical Details

The Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP) is an open source project designed to provide an easy means of deploying Linux thin clients. LTSP provides pre-built packages that can easily be installed on a server. Client PCs then make use of the server's hardware and software. For efficiency, Legal Aid Manitoba has one server at each location. Here's how it works:

  1. A client PC boots from the network (these PCs don't even need a hard drive) using a floppy disk or a bootable network card. Some network cards either have a boot ROM built onto the card, or have a slot where a boot ROM can be installed.

  2. The card receives an IP address from the server.

  3. A root filesystem is mounted from the server via NFS.

  4. Seconds later, the user is presented with a graphical login screen.

That's it.

There are several benefits of deploying Linux with thin clients: Thin clients don't need as much horsepower, require less memory, and don't need a hard drive. Applications running under the X Window system are faster—with server caching and shared memory, only one copy of the program has to be loaded, and startup times for subsequent users are faster. Furthermore, since resources are concentrated on the server, network bottlenecks are drastically reduced.

There are also advantages from the user's perspective. The big one is that users can sit at any workstation, log in, and their environment follows them. If they have a specific wallpaper or desktop organization, it's there—no matter where they wind up sitting. Better yet, all their files, email, and work in progress follows them as well. For the system administrator, this translates into centralized backups. No more nagging users to back up their files.

Speaking of administration, using thin clients provides centralized administration, and the powerful Linux network architecture means you're never short of tools to get the job done.

Finally, every Linux thin client deployed is one less license.

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