The Zero Dollar Lab Project




December 30, 2016

Beginnings
Meeting Notes
Project Tracking
A very old friend approached me with a proposition. Create a plan to extend computers into low income institutions. In Senegal he saw Linux LTSP being used in places that had the barest of resources.

There are areas of the US that, despite the resources available through federal programs, do not have the local resources to put the federal dollars to use. He wanted my help in developing a Linux Thin Client solution that could be implemented on a very thin budget. Hence, the Zero Dollar Lab Project.

LTSP is based on a thin client system. In a thin client environment, the equipment in front of the user is little more than a box connecting the keyboard, mouse, and screen. The operating system, programs, applications, and storage are on a server someplace else. You have probably seen a thin client and not known it. Ever rent a car from Enterprise? Their offices use thin clients.

Thin clients offer some terrific advantages. The cost per seat can get very low. New out of the box dedicated thin clients are less than $200.00. Ten year old Windows XP computers can be converted into Linux thin clients. A suitable Linux computer can be purchased for less than $100.00 (Price based on WITS St. Louis). A hodgepodge of donated computers could work in a pinch.

A thin client needs a server to connect to. For a Windows server to serve 50 desktops, properly licensed with Microsoft, with MS Office, also properly licensed, is going to cost between $6,000-$10,000).

To Recap:

50 desktop thin clients $5,000
50 screens $5,000
keyboards & mice $500
Server, Office $6,000

$16,500
Estimated hours for setup and configuration: 20
Technical difficulty: Need to be experienced with Windows Server
Help available: fee based

Cost of a Windows 10 lab:

50 Windows 10 computers $25,000
50 screens $5,000
keyboards & mice $500
MS Office $4,000

$34,500
Estimated hours for setup and configuration: 70
Technical difficulty: Need to be experienced with Windows 10 in a professional environment
Help available: fee based

Cost of a Pi/LTSP Lab:

50 Raspberry Pi $1,000
50 screens $5,000
keyboards & mice $500
Linux LTSP Server $400

$7,000
Estimated hours for setup and configuration: 70
Technical difficulty: Experiences with Linux
Help available: online

All labs assume 1 Gb switching and a high speed Internet connection.

PiNet http://pinet.org.uk/ lowers this cost even further. PiNet offers a classroom management system based on network logins and Raspberry Pi computers. The PiNet server can run with as little as 2Gb of RAM. The client can run on the Pi Zero computers at $5.00 a piece. In a shared environment, each student can carry their school compute on an SD card and plug it in to the lab computer when needed.

See the PiNet http://pinet.org.uk/ documentation for further information.