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December 15th, 2002
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Making a home terminal/server network with LTSP
Thursday December 12, 2002 - [ 09:42 AM GMT ] Print this Article
Topic - GNU/Linux

- By William G. Canaday -
When my wife asked me to remove Windows and install Linux on her computer, I was happy to oblige. She is familiar with Linux from watching me use it and was quite upset that Windows had lost her desktop photograph -- again. This gave me an excuse to try setting up a terminal / server network. Since we each had beefy desktop machines, this also gave me an opportunity to turn her machine to another use. After resurrecting two retired computers from the basement, we each use a lame workstation as clients to my former desktop machine, now acting as a server only.


I am now looking for a way to dual-boot the clients to Windows to use our hold-out programs from her old machine (which still has Win98 loaded on her HD). This machine will also see use with my old scanner and webcam. The scanner and webcam work flawlessly. I can't justify replacing them with Linux-compatible equivalents until they fail or no longer suit my purposes. I have not yet found Windows terminal software, so the Windows machine sits idle for now. VNC would work, but it can be painfully slow.

With the caveat that the equipment you use should be in good repair (an intermittent ram problem greatly complicated setup for me), I can heartily endorse the Linux Terminal Server Project (LTSP). Once set up correctly, it has not failed in 3 weeks of use. It, as my friend Tom A. on MDLUG says, 'simply works'. I press the power button on the workstation and the monitor. The HP Vectra I am using for a workstation spends most of its boot time checking its bios. Then one quick (4 second) read of the floppy diskette, a quick handshake with dhcp on the server and it's time to login.

The principal is pretty simple. Most desktop machines are wildly overpowered and, even when being hammered on by a 'power user', spend most of their cpu capacity waiting for a user request to do something. The great majority of their capacity is simply wasted. The LTSP allows multiple users to access the same fire-breathing desktop machine and thus put more of it to use without any noticable decrease in performance. It calls for a single strong machine acting as a server to support a large number of truly lame client terminal machines that have been told they are workstations. At boot time, each workstation identifies itself and is passed a copy of the kernel, some networking code and a login splash screen. From that moment forward, all the action is on the server.

The hardware specs are pretty simple, too. The server should be a pretty strong machine. For SOHO use, a single processor machine should work just fine. Load on the ram and give it a 500mHz or better CPU and a decent sized hard drive. Since all the programs are shared and only the data files are unique, a 10 gig hard drive should handle several people unless there are a lot of MP-3's, a large database or large graphics in use. Each adopter will have to establish their own needs in this area. Both ram and disk storage are currently relativley inexpensive; err on the side of too large.

For the client machines, however, the opposite is true. They only need a 486 or slow Pentium cpu, 32 meg of ram and no hard drive. A good graphic card is in order but all of its instructions will be coming over the Network Interface Card (NIC), so extreme capacity here is just wasted. Both ends need NIC's of course and I recommend 10/100 speed cards but don't go spastic about it ... gigabit speeds are not warranted even for gamers. Ten megahertz is probably plenty but, again, 10/100 cards are relatively inexpensive so the vastly greater speed potential makes economic sense. It is possible to buy nics that can login to the server, but I recommend starting with the diskette version until you are comfortable with the whole bundle. The bootable prom is only about four seconds faster at boot than the diskette and not faster at all once things get running. Since there is only one diskette read at boot time that is all the time you would save. Where the bootable prom comes in handy is when security is likely to be a problem and it is useful to eliminate the diskette drive. In my SOHO setting, I can fully trust all the other users.

Neither my wife nor I can tell we are not actually running the server directly. Probably it would take another 20 users before we noticed any loss of speed. This is good. Interestingly, as soon as we started using 'Linux over the wire', my wife noticed that it was faster than running Win98 directly on her (K7-800mHz, 256m ram) machine. My wife is not 'a computer geek'. She wasn't looking for a speed increase ... it was just there boldly enough that it called attention to itself.

The relevant parameters of the equipment we actually use are as follows:

Server: Athlon K7-750, 1.5g ram, 40g HD, 10/100 NIC. Mandrake 8.0 installed, upgraded to kernel 2.4.19, running LTSP 3.0.x

Workstation 1: P5-200, 64m ram, No-brand pci video card, 17 inch svga monitor, MS mouse & MS-Natural keyboard, 10/100 NIC, LTSP 5.0.7 bootrom

Workstation 2: P5-233, 128m ram, ATI pci video card, 19 inch svga monitor, Logitech optical mouse (w/ wheel), MS-Natural keyboard, 10/100 NIC, LTSP 5.0.7 bootrom

You could lower the server to probably 500mHz, 512m ram for office use. On the other hand, if you are buying new equipment, (or supporting more than a few, light weight, uses) you might as well grab additional ram and cpu speed. The workstations could come down to a 486 with 32 m of ram, but we used what we had laying around and would encourage others to take this route. A faster workstation does not alter the overall performance by much as the real work ... all of it ... is done on the server. Did you notice that the workstations do not need a HD? ALL the workstation does is pass user input to the server and display the server output on the local monitor. That's all; and you really don't need much processing power to do that. All the needed code fits easily in the first 32 meg of ram. Spend your money on the monitor and keyboard, if you wish, but go light on the workstation itself. Both of my workstations are horribly overpowered.

How well your first installation of LTSP goes will depend on your general level of computer knowledge, with knowledge of both Linux and networking being at a premium. Most people reading this review in its original form will have the required skills.

Basically, to install LTSP, you need at least one server and one workstation configured more or less along the lines above. Unless you enjoy getting ensnarled in multiple levels of complexity, you should already have a working LAN and the machine you plan to use as a server should already be able to find the internet. In fact, if you can get a LAN working under an existing install of Linux, you have the skills to install LTSP. If you can't, you don't. Adding more workstations is a very simple, and totally obvious, matter of matching up more boot disks with more nics and then wiring the nics to a switch or hub and editing the config files on the server to accommodate the new workstation.

From , obtain a copy of the rom matching your NIC. You may have to do some sleuthing to locate it ... but there is support for well over 100 NICs so your card is probably in there somewhere. Use dd or cat to copy it to a diskette. I prefer dd, but either should work. If you don't know how to use dd or how to find the manual page for it, you aren't ready for LTSP.

From http://www.ltsp.org/ obtain the current versions of:



to run a text-only server.

To run a GUI server, also grab the current versions of:



Most people will want to get the GUI stuff, too.

That's it. Put all four of the .rpm files in the same directory and run them all at once with #rpm -i ltsp.rpm <enter> They are smart enough to run in the correct order. Notice the octothorpe? You have to be root to do this. Find ltsp_initialize and run it. It will create a couple sample config files.

Now go find dhcpd.conf.example, edit it to suit and cp it over to dhcpd.conf. Then find ltsp.conf and edit it likewise. No details about the editing here because there is an excellent series of how-to's on the LTSP website. If you get stuck (after carefully RTFM'ing!) login to the irc channel listed on the LTSP website. The main programmers and how-to authors hang out there. They are there to answer questions, but not to set your machine up for you.

There are four other programs that must be running for this to work. They are dhcpd, tftpd, nfs and portmap. The how-to's tell you how to verify their presence and function. I want you to read the how-to's. That is why I am not detailing them here. In fact, I left a couple details out that will cause it not to run. RTFM.

Who should use this? Linux users looking to expand a network cost effectively or wishing to learn how the client-server model actually works.

What does it take to do this? You'll need moderate skills, one beefy machine, one or more lame workstations, a working internet connection, a working LAN and a handful of freely available program files. If things go well, allow a couple of hours for the first install. Additional machines should come online for about 15 minutes work apiece.

When should you do this? As soon as you recognize that the need may arise eventually. This will probably add to your skills with Linux and that implies a learning curve. Don't wait until your job or reputation is on the line to learn this.

Where is this beneficial? I would tend to think that the smaller business would benefit most. These are the companies that do not yet have a major investment in other technologies and for whom even a small savings is critically important. Competing technologies, such as those from Microsoft, require more in terms of hardware and software expenses with no reduction in training or other personnel costs. Larger companies might want to convert existing installations on a department by department basis at upgrade time. A SOHO should simply embrace it immediately because it greatly simplifies administration and capital outlays. The less tolerance your operation has for waste, the more important the LTSP is to you.

Why? My goodness. If you don't like learning, don't want to save money, aren't interested in simplifying administration and are joined at the hip to some other technology, LTSP has absolutely nothing to offer you. Everyone else should give this a very carefull consideration because all these benefits, and more, accrue to adoption of this technology. It costs little to begin, is greatly expandable, causes even minimalist machines to run like scalded cats, can simply be unplugged at one location and moved to another with very little fuss and no loss of security typical to wireless lans.

The only thing I didn't like about it is that networking problems can mimic hardware problems and it can be difficult to sort them out. Once I got the hardware problem (L2 ram cache developed a nervous twitch) diagnosed, isolated and corrected, LTSP installed like it had eyes of its own. So ... start with known-good hardware. If problems arise, try installing a different workstation. If it works, fix the hardware on the flakey workstation. If it doesn't work, take a fresh look at those config files. Ninety-nine dot nine times out of one hundred, that's where your problem will be. Of course, the other dot one time, you have TWO flakey workstations; or a flakey NIC or a flakey server or bad cabling or ...

( Post a new comment )

by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 5:45 (

Like C-Sharp ala ms, instead of C-pound?

There are four other programs that must be running for this to work. They are dhcpd, tftpd, nfs and portmap. The how-to's tell you how to verify their presence and function. I want you to read the how-to's. That is why I am not detailing them here. In fact, I left a couple details out that will cause it not to run. RTFM.

What you need is a good bitchslap. And fast.

ps, hope the two bits you got for writing the article was worth exposing yourself as the ahole that you show yourself to be.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Performance ...
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 6:29 (

I might be sitting in the chair and do nothing till the next thing. But when the next thing comes I expect the system fly and this is what is the most important. Computers today are cheap. And I'm also doubting the performance of such setup described above. On a VMWare test machine (on windows 2000) with 64MB RAM OfficeXP runs like hell but on a real system (1GHz 256MB) the latest Red Hat Linux 8.0 with OppenOffice.org makes me loose time waiting for the interface to load and so on. Latency is a key factor here. What if my system can't be fully loaded ? Do I realy need to do that ? NO ! What I realy need is a low latency (quick responding) OS + Software so my requests are promptly treated and resolved.

Many good things are said about this linux but if you gather them all you will see that some of them contradict themselves. For example some complain about windows having this default interface wich they say "takes so many resources"... Well... how about KDE or Gnome? If I compare them with Windows (2000 or XP, 9x/ME are not in my attention here) you'll see the difference. Same with Office software. Microsoft's software is faster and provides much more many features (which they are often denied as necessary... they say "tons of useless features" ... which again I doubt... sooner or later Linux will walk Windows's desktop path because Windows is what a home user or let's say Desktop user is generaly expecting from a machine). I'm not a Microsoft fan especialy. Generaly speaking Windows has a huge legacy of software done by many other companies, real good software, quality software.

Nothing in this world is realy free. You are free to copy Linux but you gotta waste a lot of time and resources to workarround with it and learn it while with Windows you're free to do something else for which you might be payed for and buy the Windows. Same effort, much more to gain.

What about memory management and I/O ? These things are the true heart of a system. Windows screams at these while Linux still lacks at it.
(let's remember about games which are a BIG reason for which computers are selling).
An overloaded server will surely abuse of these two. So a question arrises ... what system will perform better ? The answer is obvious.
So... you want to overload a linux based system using network input/output as "the way". I have no complaints about the networking part of linux which is much ahead of Windows but what about hard drive and memory ? What about performance ?
From my point of view this solution is not an option. Where performance has to stand up (office performance and workstation performance equals productivity in any company) this is no solution.
Nothing is free. Money brings money. Linux supporters tend to forget about comerce and it's essence in this world. They tend to be out of this world generaly speaking. And if I said that this should be no offence to anybody because I'm a linux user as well. I use linux for cheap routers and web servers but my workstation is still a Windows. Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to Microsoft to Microsoft.
Linux was borned as an ideal and I'm sure that it will continue it's existence and raise continuously as long as there will be supporters.

Don't forget that money can always do better than passion because they can fill up the true needs of man leaving room for pasison while the needs of a man can always destroy the passion. That's the reason I go comercial and still love both Windows and Linux.
Good luck to everybody!
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Clustering and LTSP.
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 9:21 (

Would it be possible to link two beefy machines with something like openMosix and then use the linked machines as the terminal server?
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

LTSP really is helping us
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 11:07 (

We are using it here in the work environment (about 50 nodes) and it works very well for us. I have no complaints.

For us, it costs NO money to setup and operate. If you consider the labor to set it up, then I suppose that cost the compnay as much money as they normally would have paid us had we not set it up. Isn't labor cost a fact with every job though (LTSP or not)?

Anyway, the total cost of ownership (labor + zero cost of software + better up-time + less administrative problems + overhead network bandwidth + zero recycled-computer-parts cost) is far less than our alternatives. Further, looking down the road, it will progressively become a greater total savings cost for the company.

Kudos to the LTSP and those involved in it. We appreciate your efforts.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

What about secutiry?
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 11:14 (

Hi, I'm not an expert but the configuration you described is something I thought on several times. The fact that make me worry is the security. From the technical documentation I learned that for home users is safe to have a small, low powered machine as internet interface/firewall that protect a decent client that run the services you need for the desktop (actually I have two, one for me and one for my daughter) and I always thought that this was just a waste of resources (BTW I got to reinstall my small P100 Debian server broken by some useless "hacker" last week). How may I make an LTSP server safe enough to contain all my sensible data too?
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

kinda cool
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 11:21 (

one problem is that when some app borks and starts sucking up 99% of the cpu time it freezes _all_ the thin clients on your network.. it seems that kde is to blame the majority of the time, though. sticking to blackbox or another small, more stable window manager should solve this problem.

i've also had my thin client's X servers restart on me when doing a lot of web surfing (i don't think it's a ram problem since i had it happen a couple times on two different thin clients)..

a video card with decent 2d acceleration is important if you don't want to see your cursor and desktop icons flicker and crap when moving your cursor around. it doesn't really look pretty. my ati rage II+dvd cards w/2mb ram get rid of all unsightly flickering nicely, though. 2d acceleration is all that matters. don't waste money on a 3d accelerated card.

also, when scrolling through web pages you feel as if you are using a 133mhz pc and a video card with no 2d acceleration. the scrolling isn't perfectly smooth like it is with a normal pc. every once in a great while you'll also come across a web site that takes like 30 seconds to render.

the flash 5 plugin has a bug in it that causes flash animations to crash when being viewed on a remote desktop. i've heard that the flash 6 plugin fixes this problem, though. konqueror handles the crashes nicely and simply doesnt show the animation. mozilla, however, totally bombs out.

other than those shortcomings, ltsp is pretty cool. its neat seeing openoffice pop up in 6 seconds on a p133 :) if your hardware is fast enough, it might be best to run your web browser locally on the thin client itself. that'll solve many of your problems.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Good use for old laptops
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 14:06 (

I'm running LTSP at home also. The best part is being able to make use of 486's. Why? Laptops.

I can get a 486 laptop for much cheaper than a new LCD flat-panel display. It makes a great, small-footprint X terminal.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Terminal server LTSP.
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 14:07 (

"This is good. Interestingly, as soon as we started using 'Linux over the wire', my wife noticed that it was faster than running Win98 directly on her (K7-800mHz, 256m ram) machine."

I personally don't see how she could notice that it is faster using a thin client than directly on a "k7-800mhz & 256megs ram". It must be misconfiguration somewhere or a buggy process that is running in the backgound eating up cpu cycles.

I have some experience with setting up Unix/Linux thin clients & MS-TS (Terminal Services or Remote Desktop Protocol). And, MS-TS (RDP), LTSP are all base of Citric ICA therefore the should have similar in speed.

The apparent problem is because Windows is much slower than a small or minimal Linux distro therefore a good config Linux box should be able to serve twice as many clients, but not faster because it is though the "wire", or because LTSP is a better protocal.

I personally haven't tested Office though Wine with a minimal distro, but I have tested Office through Wine on RH7.x/8.0 and Win98 is way faster at running MS-office (on the same machine at 533mhz with 384megs ram). Therefore I don't believe that a perfectly config Win98 box with such hardware wouldn't run noticeably slower than, a Linux box that run Office though Wine, CodeWeavers Crossover Office (or Enterprise), Win4Lin, or Vmware.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Go one step further
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 14:37 (

Install OpenMosix (http://www.openmosix.org). Whatever machines you happen to have on your network can share their processor resources. Automatically, without user intervention, Mosix moves processes to the machine that has the least amount of load.

Combine this with LTSP, and if you happen to have a thin client that's got a few extra cycles, it can take some load off your server, while not sacrificing this centralized management, if done properly!
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Yeah, right
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 14:57 (

"When my wife asked me to remove Windows and install Linux on her computer, I was happy to oblige."

Yeah, right. And when >>my>I was happy to oblige. What planet do you live on? My wife can't stand it if I even think about linux when I'm near her computer.

[ Reply to This | Parent ]

get rid of winblows
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 17:55 (

go to www.vmware.com get VMware.... get rid of winblows.

windows should get no love, winblows gets no love on my network, shit I reduced windows to a window

linux 4 life
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Easier way to start - go to www.K12LTSP.org
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 20:38 (

LTSP site is basicly a geek place to hang out.
So - instead for some an easier LTSP distro is available that is pre-built with RedHat distro as the foundation. This is the K12LTSP distro!

K12LTSP has it all in one place (ya still need to go to the "links" on LTSP site for boot roms, NICs, etc)... BUT, a 3 CD download is on K12LTSP site and it has the easiest HOW-TO-DO information to be found (for all kinds of LINUX stuff)!

This project has it's beginnings in the Portland Or Public School system and the organization of the web site is typical of a well constructed course or study that you would find in any class!

If a Newbie then ya must go to K12LTSP and Check it all out! Less pain here (at least till Mandrake and the others puts LTSP on their "out of the box" distros !

Good article! Long live Linux!
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.12 20:40 (

For a taste of Linux Terminal server Red Hat 8 makes it very easy to configure XDMCP. I wrote a tiny howto for setting up XDMCP on Red Hat 8:

http://voidmain.kicks-ass.net/redhat/redhat_8_term inal_server.html
[ Reply to This | Parent ]
    Re:XDMCP by Anonymous Reader 2002.12.12 20:44
      Re:XDMCP by Anonymous Reader 2002.12.13 9:12

machine instructions...
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 0:55 (

hi, i have an lfs system compiled with flags for the athlon-xp. i was wondering if i set up this system do i need to recompile all my apps so they run on the 486's i plan on using with them? i.e. does ltsp use the servers processer or the local processor to run apps? thanks.

p.s. btw i say c-sharp, used to do music when i was younger and it just seems more natural-sounding...
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

What about Wireless
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 4:29 (

Hi guys, I'm trying to make a LTSP network using DWL-520 (prism2.5) wireless PCI card but I can't...
Nothing workings... i can boot the client with the AP and download the kernel but at this point nothing to do.. my client dies.

Can U help me?????
Thanxs a lot!
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Speed of application
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 5:17 (

One thing I couldn't find in any of the comments, is one of the nicest things about running a central server. If anyone has started OpenOffice on the server, and someone else wants to run OOo as well, OOo will come up nearly instantly, as the majority of code is loaded already, and only a tiny fraction of additional code needs to be loaded.

Same is true for other bloated application.

Running a central Windows Terminal Server does not have the same impact. Even if someone has loaded an application, the next person requesting the same application will see nearly the same load time as the first (minus cached resources).


[ Reply to This | Parent ]

by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 12:14 (

ltsp article on the left, microsoft skyscraper banner on the right. :)
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 16:19 (

Is it possible to game over this setup? When I say game, I mean like the 3d kind (quake3/ut2k3 that sort of thing). Does it work? And does it work well??

[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Saving Money
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 20:34 (

Im the pc administrator of a lab at my university. I manage about 30 win2k pcs. I must say, windows is what everyone knows and loves. People just want what they know, which is, and will always be windows. About configuring the computers (making an image) Almost ALL the problems i have are with Microsoft programs that you would expect to work in windows. (Visual Studio .NET, .NET framework, Visual Studio 6.0, Office .NET, etc) Not only this, but a big problem of Win2k in my opinion is the way users share data. It is so great the way that if you install software as one user, it usually remains totally unconfigured for the rest of the users. Im speaking of installing a program as the administrator and hoping it works in the default restricted user. Its a nightmare for me, even MS apps refuse to work without going through the registry, or nastilly hacking it. But i dont care, once i set it up and test it, it works. I often tell myself i could do it SOOOOOoo much faster in linux, but i have never actually done tried it. Anyway, i know i sound like a retard, but ill continue with my randomness. Both linux and win2k are highly unoptimized right off the bat. Thank god windows update exists. I find editing configuration files a much more efficient way of disabling processes and ports than using the GUI. In linux you always know what something is, it says httpd, ftpd, telnetd...but in win2k you still have remoteregistry hiding SOMEWHERE on your system waiting for you to disable it, also mentioning netbios, the terminal server, and all the MS services that seriously dont need to be running. BLAHHHHHHH..

In relation to the article, you must realize that setting up a terminal server in your home is pretty much retarded, but in an environment like my lab, we could save a fortune by setting up "lame workstations" or even thin clients like Largo is doing

this will use less power, cost less than adding 20 new COMPLETE pcs (which most people will just use to check e-mail, edit a document, code), take less work to manage once its setup.....
Can you do that with windows?

Both have advantages.

windows is for everyone
windows is not for cheap people
linux is for cheap people
linux is not for lazy people or idiots

go ahead and flame me, id like to know how retarded i am.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

The word "spastic" is offensive
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.13 21:19 (

The word "spastic" is offensive.

Cerebral Palsy.
[ Reply to This | Parent ]

Plume vs. LTSP
by Anonymous Reader on 2002.12.14 4:00 (

There is a better alternative to LTSP: Plume. It's the same as LTSP but exclusively (at the moment) for Debian. Simply install the .debs packages (about one Mb)... Easy as one two three ! It uses NFS, DHCP, ... It has been released (v0.7.0) few weeks ago.

Give it a try !

[ Reply to This | Parent ]

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