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I need some help in setting up a dumb-terminal type concept for Windows machines.

We have a computer lab with 40 computers, all of them are ageing. Unfortunately, we don't have enough funds to get all of them replaced.

On the other side, we have very powerful rack servers which are quite underutilized.

I was thinking of a solution which would enable those lab computers to use the rack servers. Remote desktop is an option, but I wanted something that is more transparent to the end user.

Are there any free or low cost solutions for such an scenario??


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closed as off-topic by Jenny D, Bryan, Scott Pack, Ward, TheCleaner Jul 24 '13 at 14:43

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

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What OS and edition are your servers running? – squillman Feb 22 '11 at 19:54
What does 'more transparent' mean? Anyway, lookup LTSP. – Zoredache Feb 22 '11 at 19:58
Everything is Windows. Clients are Windows XP/7. Servers are Windows 2008 – user67714 Feb 22 '11 at 20:00
By transparent, I meant that users should be able to log off/log in normally - they shouldn't be forced to click a link or open browser. All computing & storage should be remote, only the monitor and devices (keyboard,mouse,usb) should be at the user end – user67714 Feb 22 '11 at 20:01
up vote 1 down vote accepted

We use the L series devices here:

Note that this requires the RDS/TS role and the requisite server and RDS/TS CAL's.

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Windows Terminal Server is a great way of doing this, and combined with Hyper-V you can actually give each user a full personal virtual machine that follows them everywhere they go.

This is, however, expensive, as terminal server lcienses are expensive, and you still need to license the guest OS's (you don't have to do the Hyper-V guest path, but it's pretty cool).

As for thin clients, I love tiny form factor plug-style PC's. My two favourites are:

The great thing about going this way is, yes, there's some initial setup costs (beefy servers, all the thin clients, PoE, etc) but once you're running, getting faster computers or more capacity is as simply as throwing a new server into the Terminal Server farm. Need to add another 100 computers? Spend $5,000 on a new server, $10,000 on new thin clients and bam, you've got 100 new computers for under $20k, and the maintenance costs are almost zilch (no more replacing parts, formatting, re-imaging, etc).

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There are some thin client OS's out there that can turn a full computer into a thin client. Depending on the OS used, you can have them auto configured to automatically connect to the RDP services of the server. A quick and easy solution though would be to wipe the computers clean, have them auto login, and then start RDP on login so all they need to do is hit connect and it connects so they log in.

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Typically, this is done on a low budget by installing VNC on the client PCs, and Linux on the servers. I realise that you have Windows 2008, but if you have underutilized rack servers then it it may save even more money to put Linux on one or more of them instead of Win2008.

Or, if you cannot touch the server OS, you could still use HyperV (or install Virtualbox) and create a number of Linux virtual machines, each of which could support several users.

If you go the VM route, be careful about how you distribute users. For instance if you have 3 rooms of PCs, do not create one server per room. Instead create one server for X users where X is a number you must reach by a bit of trial and error. Then, in any room, try to ensure that neighboring PCs are on different VMs. This could be as simple as login info taped to the monitor. Then, if one VM crashes or locks up during class, the users of that can follow along with their neighbor's session.

Note, that if there is some Windows software package that is absolutely necessary, it may be possible to install WINE on the Linux VMs and run the package in WINE. Again, testing is needed, but the upside is that the people who do all of this work will learn a lot.

And even if you can afford Windows terminal server CALs, the next person to read this might not have the budget.

By the way, if you really want a dumb terminal concept, just install Putty on all of the machines and use that to log into a green screen non-GUI Linux shell prompt. And you could even install DOSBOX on Linux and set up the logins to go directly to DOS.

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