Kudos and cheers, we have been wanting to see movement in this direction for awhile!  School of Nursing volunteers to be the test site!!


Greg MacKinnon wrote:

Submit for your approval...
A strategic realignment of IT services on the UVM campus.

When I started working here, my good friend Steve C. (last name hidden
to protect the innocent) told me:  "The LAN is broken, Personal
Computers are broken... Fix it!  That's your job!"  So I have taken up
the task.

What do you think?

-Greg MacKinnon
CIT Client Services



A Thin-Client Initiative
for the UVM Campus

Questions and Answers


What is Top-Cat?

Top Cat is an initiative to provide a "Ubiquitous Network Client" service to all members UVM family. Under a Thin-Client model, users would have cross-platform access to applications and data stored on centrally hosted systems. This model provides a consistent user environment, common tools for productivity, common authentication schemes, and secure file storage.


Why do we need a thin-client solution on the UVM campus?

As the mainframe died and personal computing exploded, the world decided that users of information systems each needed to have a PC on her desktop. Trends in software development supported this model, and pretty soon we were where we are today... every user has a monstrously complicated device capable of calculating the age of the universe to 1000 significant digits on her desk. These "PCs" are powerful, impressive, and a total pain in the neck. To give a PC to most people is a bit like picking up the groceries with a back-hoe... Yes, it can be done, but it is entirely UN-necessary.

Further complicating the situation is the fracturing of the personal computing field. Individuals given free-choice of computing platforms and operating systems have made divergent choices. Some of us use Macintosh computers, some of us Windows. Obstinate individuals have installed Linux, Sun, and AIX workstations.

On the back end, departments have made divergent choices in server technology. Some use AIX, others Sun. Many use NT, 2000, and Novell. An obstinate few use Macintosh servers. None of these solutions like to "play nice together".

What we need is a new approach. We need an approach which captures the simplicity of the Mainframe/terminal era while maintaining the beauty of the Personal Computer Graphical-User-Interface. Thin client computing will deliver a stripped-down, simplified, common operating environment to users of campus information systems. No more complicated software installs, no more messy operating system fixes, no more patches and bug fixes. Your local system will only need to run the Top-Cat access software. It will look pretty and run consistently. It is all you will need to get your work done.

What are the Pros?

Come on... There has to be a downside. What is it?
I like details. What are some of the software packages you will use?

On the server side-

    Sun and Linux DCE/'DFS clients with PAM or Kerberos enabled applications.

    Linux Terminal Server Software (tftp loadable kernel)


    Windows-emulation software (Wine, Win4Lin, or similar)

    Oracle Forms Developer 6i for Linux

    Other work-flow services... Lotus Notes?

    VNC Servers

    Apache servers

    SSH/SFTP servers

    SSL modules

    Other services added with time

For Clients-
    SSH/SFTP Client


    VNC Client

    Web Browser

    Nothing else!

Won't this cost a lot?


I mean, yes. We will have to spend a lot on servers, and we will spend much time scurrying around deploying network clients. Further expenses will be incurred in retraining the staff. But in the long run, this will save buckets of money. Look at what we spend now:

Moving to Thin-client, or Ubiquitous Network Computing, will slash these costs and let all of us get our work done with fewer interruptions.

But I like my PC!!!

That was not a question, but I'll see if I can answer anyway.

Keep your PC. Top-Cat will run on top of your existing hardware. Use Top-Cat to publish an communicate with the campus. With all those idle processor loops you can calculate the age of the universe several times a day. Join SETI-at-home. Design a greenhouse-based sewage system for Burlington. Solve the productivity-paradox of the Wooly Mammoth. We will provide Top-Cat, you do the rest.

I like pictures... Do you have a spiffy Visio diagram of Top-Cat?

Of course I do!


What about screen shots?! I want screen shots!

Okay, check out the Picture Page

This is the craziest idea I have heard all month! Is this for real?

As real as you want it to be. Let's talk about it...

-J. Greg MacKinnon
CIT Client Services
University of Vermont
mailto:[log in to unmask]

Margaret P. Gagne, MS, RN
Director, Technology Based Learning
School of Nursing
University of Vermont
Rowell 237
fax (802)656-8306