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Old 12-11-2007, 01:56 AM   #1
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Is it possible to use 1 server to drive multiple terminals?

I have to apologize in advance if this idea sounds stupid, but I have been a Windows programmer for almost 15 years, and have only started getting into Linux as my disdain for Microsoft has grown over the last 18 months.

I'm at the point now where I've convinced my boss to buy into one of my ideas before I actually had figured out whether or not it was really feasible. I'm hoping to get some feedback from people who know much more about X than I.

Here is the deal. I currently administer a network of 35 traders for a small trading firm. Currently, each trader has their own computer connected to the LAN, as you would expect. What I proposed, was to consolidate the number of machines by getting a 2U server chasis, throwing in a motherboard with at least 3 PCIe slots, and putting in 3 dual head PCIe video cards. Then I suggested creating 6 different X sessions, 1 on each display port, essentially allowing us to drive 6 traders per CPU instead of just 1.

The only problem I haven't figured out yet, is how to deal with the extra keyboards and mice. Not sure if the best solution is to just throw in extra USB ports, and use all wireless keyboards and mice, or to use bluetooth. But obviously, I would need some way to tie a particular keyboard and mouse to a specific graphics port. Of course sound is also another issue that I haven't really figured out.

My question is, does anyone think this is actually a feasible or realistic solution, or is it the wrong approach? And if this is the right path, how would I actually implement it?

Thank you in advance for any responses.
Old 12-11-2007, 03:45 AM   #2
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Get on Google for "multi seat x11". I read an article once where a desktop was used for 4 or 5 seats (keyboard/mouse/display). However at the time, one card was used per seat. Using dual head cards had problems. The article was a least 2 years old, so the status may be different.

Another option is to run thin clients. Then the keyboard, mouse and video traffic travel on the network. There are some thin clients that use very little power. These clients would load in the operating system from a server when they boot up.
I have read about potential problem. If you have non-postscript printers, they may cause an excessive load on the network while printing. I read of an example of a library using thin clients, running off a single server (on a 100MBS network).
Before you had powerful desktop computers, you would have X terminals connected to a central mainframe. This is what X11 was invented for.

A third choice is to have the system directories mounted on a central nfs directory. Doing this, the same program and library directories are mounted for each client. The individual home directories can also be mounted on a central NAS. The /tmp, /var/run directories could be mounted locally on a smaller drive. There is a document at the website called the "The Linux Filesystem Hierarchy Standard" which describes which directories can be mounted read-only and shared on the network. This means that in a heterogeneous environment, you could install or upgrade programs (as root) once, centrally instead of upgrading each computer.
The main difference between this and using thin clients is that with thin clients, the applications run on the server. Here the applications run on each computer but most of the filesystem is mounted centrally and shared. It is also possible to mount everything on a server and use thin clients. However here, the apps can run on the host.

The worst option, IMHO, is to use a Virtual Networking Computing server (Not to be confused with the term Virtual Network Connection). The entire session and the programs run on the server. So the server is loaded down running all of the apps, and the windows manager as well, which also causes more traffic because the entire screen is drawn at the server.

Linux (and Unix) use X11 which is network transparent. So it is possible to run an application on one computer but have it displayed on another display. The X11 terminal is the server, and the application is the client. Where an app runs isn't that important. I think the best solution is to run KDE or GNOME on a client and maybe run the apps on a server. You could have the filesystem mounted on a central fileserver(s) and the apps running on a separate server or servers. Each tuned for their particular task.

I hope I gave you some ideas, and haven't got too wrong or outdated. I didn't even cover virtualization, which is more like the VNC solution. This is used to virtualize servers (and/or clients) on fewer real servers but treat them as real entities. This allows you to be more efficient in purchasing equipment. A DNS server may be underutilized. Why have a real machine dedicated for the task (plus a backup).

Last edited by jschiwal; 12-11-2007 at 03:56 AM.
Old 12-11-2007, 06:54 AM   #3
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Wow, this is a great place to get quick answers....thank you very much for taking the time to respond.

The multi-seat X11 is pretty much exactly what I was thinking, so thank you very much for the search term. Here is the link in case anybody else is interested:

So am I correct in saying that with the exception of the multi-seat X11, all of the other solutions require each other seat to have at least a thin client in front of them (cpu, ram, monitor, kb, mouse) vs. just kb/mouse?
Old 12-11-2007, 06:57 AM   #4
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I should also not that this also proves my theory, that with so many smart people in the world, its virtually impossible to come up with a truly unique idea
Old 08-02-2008, 07:29 AM   #5
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Look at 3D Multiseat
Old 08-02-2008, 06:33 PM   #6
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I strongly suggest not using ATI hardware for this if it's going to require you to use the proprietary fglrx driver. ATI's position is that fglrx is a driver for ATI hardware, and not also a driver for X. As a result their support of any multiple screen setups that aren't Clone mode or "Big Desktop" mode is absolutely abysmal.

That said, r600 hardware is already perfectly usable today with xf86-video-ati and -radeonhd if you can get by with only 2d, and 3d support will be there soon. Anything older is supported quite well with the -ati driver, r500 hardware being a possible caveat - you can get 3d support with the -ati driver, but it's still quite new support so likely there's some issues here and there.
Old 08-03-2008, 12:55 PM   #7
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Yes, I can't get to work Asus EAH2600XT.
Old 08-12-2008, 12:26 AM   #8
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This does pretty much the same thing, but you can use your existing equip initially.


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