SunForum Shines With VOIP Vigor

Sun Microsystems' update brings collaboration to Sun Ray thin-client platform, saves sites money

Sun Microsystems Inc.s SunForum 3.2 software upgrade brings a host of collaboration features, including VOIP capabilities, to Suns already solid Sun Ray thin-client platform.

For IT shops already using the Sun Ray platform, this free upgrade is an easy choice. For businesses considering server-based computing, the ability to integrate voice over IP and data is a good reason to select this thin-client platform.

The Sun thin-client system provides out-of-the-box support for "hot" redundant servers that balance loads—that is, two or more servers will accept client connections with the least loaded accepting the next client connection. In the event of a failure, clients simply log in again to attach to another server. Performance is degraded with the additional load, but no one is out of service.

In eWeek Labs tests, SunForum 3.2, which was released in May, proved easy to install, and its support for H.323, T.120 and T.127 conferencing standards means it will work well with most conferencing applications. We used it with Microsoft Corp.s NetMeeting.

Although the SunForum software is free, Sun Ray 100 devices with integrated 17-inch monitors retail for approximately $550. (A Sun Ray 1, without the integrated monitor, is $399.) Sun offers starter kits for the Sun Ray that run to a little more than $21,000 for 25 thin Sun Ray 1 clients and approximately $28,000 for 25 Sun Ray 100 clients, as well as a Sun E-220R server with all the required software. Sun officials said the company will mix and match these bundles according to customers needs.

This initial investment is steep, but its less expensive than deploying 25 4GHz machines with monitors. We recommend test-driving a couple of Sun Rays before committing to a $30,000 investment.

SunForum 3.2s collaborative prowess complements the Sun Rays smart card and Hotdesking features. Sun Ray smart cards enable users to carry collaborative sessions with them. When a user removes the smart card from a Sun Ray, the station immediately logs out; the users session picks up where it left off when the card is reinserted into any station.

The Hotdesking feature allowed us to put phone calls, videoconferences and application sharing on hold by removing the card. We could resume a call or session or share applications by inserting the smart card in another Sun Ray. SunForum handles the phone and videoconferencing process.

Catching some Rays

The Sun Ray platforms management features include a comprehensive Web browser-based management console. Using this console, we could add and monitor users and implement redundant servers and load balancing for fault tolerance.

In tests, we started with a Sun E250 server with Solaris 8 and all the latest patches. We then installed the Sun Ray software that supports all the thin clients resource needs, including connectivity and video frame buffers. When wed finished configuring the Sun Ray 100 thin clients, we added the SunForum 3.2 package to the server.

Our first test was to share applications with another Sun Ray and with a Windows 98 machine running NetMeeting. Everything went smoothly: We were able to share applications and the desktop PC, including Solaris applications on the Windows machine.

Next, we made voice calls between thin clients and placed calls on hold by removing the smart card and going to another station to complete them. (Outside calls are also supported, although we did not introduce PBX equipment to the test mix.)