US Navy gets shipshape with Sun Ray thin clients

The U.S. Navy is upgrading the IT systems on its 160-ship surface fleet by replacing bulky PCs, several separate onboard networks and miles of cabling with simpler, more secure and easier to administer thin-client systems from Sun Microsystems Inc.

The Sun Ray thin-client systems will allow the Navy to simplify existing shipboard IT systems by reducing the amount of equipment needed, from servers to individual networks used by sailors aboard the vessels, said Brian Hedges, a U.S. Navy systems engineer based in San Diego.

Because sailors from coalition nations travel on U.S. Navy ships, more than seven onboard networks have been needed to allow them to communicate with their own military branches, Hedges said. Those extra networks required additional servers, cabling and PCs, which took up precious space on already tightly packed ships.

But by replacing the old, bulky infrastructure with Sun Ray thin clients and new servers, and using Sun's Trusted Solaris high-security operating system, the Navy is able to shed lots of hardware and streamline cabling needs. The thin-client terminals can be used by multiple sailors who can log in with unique usernames, passwords and other authentication means, lessening the number of individual terminals needed by each ship and saving space.

The Sun Rays can communicate with the multiple networks used by allied navies. Currently, to communicate with their sailors on U.S. ships, each allied nation must install separate networks and hardware on Navy vessels, Hedges said.

"What the thin clients allow us to do is to drastically reduce the footprints" and power required by the hardware, he said. Another key benefit is that software upgrades and other system maintenance can be done at the servers rather than having to be manually done at each PC under the old IT structure, saving time for systems administrators, Hedges said.