Zero client experiment

April 16, 2013 by  
Filed under News, Tech

By Leigh Scaggs, network administrator

Such a short sweep of time; such an enormous sweep of change.

When I came to work at the library very few people had computers in their homes or any real contact with computers. These days I listen to grandmothers on devices they carry in their pocket talking to a grandchild and watching a live feed of that grandchild’s birthday party being held halfway around the world. Broadcast television, which once seemed to be an irreplaceable medium for entertainment, has been replaced in some homes with shows watched on the network’s website or through computer-based subscription client

Twenty years ago I came to work full-time at the library and asked to be put in charge of the computers as an addition to my work in the reference department. The library’s enormous collection of computing resources consisted of three standalone single purpose computers for the public. Just as the public’s relationship with computers has grown, so has the library’s. We’re now talking about more than 100 computers for public and staff; a dozen servers; gigabit connections between all four branches; phones that run over a computer network; a library catalog you can use to put library resources on hold from anywhere in the world; and digital books, audio and video available for download to smartphones, tablets, and home computers.

As these changes have taken place, Boyd County Public Library has always worked to make the best use of its resources to meet the needs of its patrons, and we continue to do so by staying aware of changes in the field of technology as it applies to libraries. We’ve also tried to control the costs of maintaining and replacing public computers on a regular basis while trying to keep sufficient computers available for public use.

An experiment we’re trying in our newly remodeled Catlettsburg Branch, to manage costs while still providing dependable computing access for the public, is the installation of a zero client computer network. Zero client computing involves not putting an electricity-guzzling computer at each station. Instead we’ll install a computing server and just place a monitor, keyboard, mouse, and a small electricity-sipping box the size of a paperback book with no moving parts at each station.

The small box (zero client) will transfer all the keyboard and mouse input back to the server for processing and then display the processed information at the station – just as if the patron was sitting at the computer. This green initiative will also let us keep the computers more up-to-date with things like the latest versions of Adobe Reader. If the operating system does need to be updated, it’s simply done on the server and all the zero clients are instantly updated.

I was watching an interview a few years back with someone who’d worked on one of the first computing projects for the U.S. government who was asked to tell something about this first amazing breakthrough in computers. His reply, which may have been a bit exaggerated, was that what had been the size of a house and all its computing power could now be put into a watch and given away with the purchase of a box of cereal.

Times change, our lives change, and libraries continue to change.


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