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Virtual Dumb Terminals

October 10, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

ThoughtsDumb made smarter

When I was studying Computer Science at university we used Digital UNIX on a server and rooms full of dumb terminals connecting to it. It meant that the terminals simply showed the display and passed the user’s input onto the server, hence the ‘dumb’ title.

The world of computers has moved almost exclusively into the opposite model of stand alone computers or at least ‘smart’ terminals that use a server but process most work locally. The latest move into ‘cloud’ computing is not a move back towards the dumb terminal model because the actual processing of data is still done on the local machine.
But there could be a move back towards this model, as virtualisation becomes more and more pervasive.

My idea is to take a virtualisation server and let it dynamically load the ‘terminal’ computer that runs the virtual machine with whatever the terminal can handle. The server would monitor things such as the RAM and CPU load on the terminal, and if resources are running low perform more calculations on the server end and simply send the result to the terminal, which would require less resources.

This would mean the terminal could always run fast and light, and the server could offload as much as possible to the terminal, but bail it out when it needed some extra muscle.  There are many advantages to virtual computing such as load balancing, easier software upgrades, more choice of platform and so on.  This approach could make it much easier to upgrade hardware as well though, as a new server could result in better performance across all it’s terminals just as if the terminals has been replaced instead.  Older hardware would be able to run more advanced software (albeit with an increased load on the server over newer, more capable hardware) and everything from smartphones to main frames could be supported centrally.

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