CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Originally published Monday, October 16, 2000

UOP's computing power simply glowing

Despite the gloomy weather last week, the sun was shining brightly on the UOP campus -- Sun Microsystems, that is. A partnership between University of the Pacific and Sun was formally announced last week that brings a new network of 736 Sun Ray appliances to UOP, enabling "anywhere, anytime computing solutions" throughout the Stockton campus.

UOP was one of three universities recently announced as beneficiaries of Sun's commitment to the education market. The Sun Ray appliance network offers "easy-to-use, affordable and reliable network-centric devices that enable users to gain instant access to the Internet and a variety of applications from any appliance in the workgroup." Cisco Systems was also instrumental in the Sun Ray project, assisting UOP with the necessary network upgrades.

The Sun Rays are, in fact, appliances. This was my very first thought as I ogled a room full of these sleek, blue contraptions that seemed equally suited for a kitchen countertop. The Sun Ray is a thin client, rather than a fully equipped desktop PC. It has some inherent smarts, but its true power lies in its connectivity to the larger UNIX network running the Solaris 7 64-bit operating system. This OS is fast, stable, powerful and far outpaces any current Windows offerings.

Practically speaking, students can sit down at any one of 736 Sun Ray terminals situated throughout the campus and bring up their unique workspace and saved files. A "smart card," embedded with account information, is inserted into the appliance and the session begins. Once logged on, users can access the Internet as well as business productivity tools, such as Star Office. Star Office includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation tools that are compatible with Microsoft Office. (Refer to: "Sun sheds light on office efficiency" )

"Hot Desk" technology allows students to simply pull the card out and move to the next class, for example, without having to save files or log off. The session is simply suspended until the smart card is inserted into the next Sun Ray terminal. Students can travel between class, residence halls, the library or even on-campus cafes without ever logging out of the system. It's like carrying your computer with you on a credit card.

The Sun Rays are up and running in the UOP Engineering Department and have been well received, according to Dr. Louise Stark. "Software consistency is one advantage of this centralized computing environment," according to Stark. "At this time, when students go from one lab to another, there is no guarantee that the same software will be available."

Stark also predicts the Hot Desk technology will enhance student/faculty interaction. "When a student is working on a problem and cannot figure it out, they simply pull out their smart card, go to the professor's office, put in the smart card and the professor can see exactly what has happened."

Since these Sun Rays are running on a UNIX system, students can't insert a diskette, however, and save their files for later use on a Windows-based PC.

They can, however, attach any Sun Ray-created files to an e-mail message and then retrieve those files from a Windows-based machine. As long as compatibility exists between file types, they can be shared in both environments.The Sun Rays running Star Office also provide an economical solution for many students concerned with the high costs of acquiring Microsoft Office.

Star Office for Windows is free and available as a download from the Sun Web site. Students can therefore install Star Office on their Windows systems and share files via attachments between their own PCs and the Sun Rays on campus. In a world where maintenance, support and licensing costs can be prohibitive for a distributed computer network, a centralized approach to information processing makes good sense, especially for large organizations.

Cathi Schuler owns a computer literacy training/consulting company, Cee Prompt! She is a co-author of computer textbooks and can be reached by e-mail at cschuler@uop.edu or cschuler@ceeprompt.com or by mail c/o The Record, P.O. Box 900, Stockton, CA 95201. She is on the Internet at: http://www.ceeprompt.com. Click here for past archived columns.

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