Wednesday, September 5th, 2007 at 10:55am

A Logical Choice in Education

Posted by Jordan Erickson

Open source software has been gaining a lot of momentum in the educational sector as of late. There are specific projects geared toward using OSS in education, and passionate communities based around them.

One of the many interesting projects we’re talking about is “LTSP”, which stands for the “Linux Terminal Server Project”. This project incorporates software into the Linux operating system which enables it to be used to serve terminal sessions, booting “thin clients” (either dedicated clients, or older obsolete hardware) directly from a well equipped server. This provides the technical foundation for some of the most excellent computer lab setups in education and after-school programs.

So what does that mean? It means a few things, actually. First of all, it means you have a use for all of your aging workstations. All of those old dusty 64MB or 128MB PCs you have lying around can be used as graphical terminals, using the power of a beefy Linux server to display sessions on them. The processing power of the clients has almost nothing to do with how fast you go in a terminal server environment, as long as they can boot via the PXE or Etherboot network protocol.

It also means that you have only one system to update when new software comes about – the server. Since the clients boot their entire operating system over the network into what you call a RAM disk, they do not utilize a hard drive. In fact, the software installation physically resides on the server itself, so there is absolutely zero software to update on the clients, ever. Update the server, and the clients are automatically updated.

With Linux running LTSP, your TCO is but a fraction of the cost of maintaining a traditional workstation/server network. No more touching each workstation when there are updates and/or configuration changes. No more upgrading hardware on the workstation level – LTSP can boot clients with as little as 32MB of RAM, running processors from the mid 90’s. Again, everything you do on the clients utilizes the processing power of the server. What this also provides is an incredibly efficient server – if you have 150 thin clients running off of one beefed-up server, all with the Firefox web browser and OpenOffice running at the same time, the application memory is shared between users, drastically reducing the overall required memory on your network and server. It just makes sense to do it this way.

Probably the biggest benefit of LTSP, Linux and open source software in general, however, is the community behind it. A lot of people might think that free software is cheaply-made software, but the industry proven OSS projects such as Linux, Apache, Firefox, OpenOffice, MySQL, LTSP, and countless others beg to differ. These projects lead the way in innovative ideas, expert programming skill and even technical support. Jump onto IRC (Internet Relay Chat) any time and join one of the thousands of open source related chat channels, and you’ll often find developers, system administrators and power users helping you within minutes, for free. Personally, this beats the bejesus out of calling a 1-888 number and being routed to some poor sap that reads a script to you. “I am very sorry for your inconvinience sir and/or ma’am, I would be happy to help you with your issue.” No thanks, I’d rather talk to a human being.

To learn more about Linux, LTSP and open source software, check out the following:

http://www.ubuntu.com
http://www.linux.org
http://www.ltsp.org
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source_software

On IRC network: irc.freenode.net – channels #edubuntu – #ltsp – #ubuntu – #gnome

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