I recently had the opportunity to take a look at one of Mitel’s latest devices, the 5340 IP telephone with an integrated Sun Ray 2 client. The device is part of their push towards unified telecommunications with the Mitel Unified IP client for Sun Ray. What is interesting to me about this phone is the linkages between the phone and the Sun Ray system, and the way that they have leveraged each device.
Setting up the unit was easy. In line with “typical business usage,” I did not look at the instructions at all, I simply started to plug up cables. My only stumbling block was trying to figure out why they seemed to give me an “Ethernet pass-through brick” that connected to power and at the same time why the phone would not come on. After a minute, I realized that the “Ethernet pass-through brick” was a PoE module; plugging that in got the device up and immediately usable. From there, it was 100% intuitive. Desktop support specialists can roll these devices out as fast as any phone. When the Sun Ray session started, it automatically detected my monitor resolution. Mitel let me know that the Sun Ray session needs to be restarted to adjust to a different monitor resolution if a differently sized monitor is connected, but other than that, moving to a different workstation if needed is a breeze.
The phone itself is a handsome unit in line with similar units that I have used. There were a few features which really stood out. The first item was the handset itself; the unit came with a cordless handset which included buttons for hang up, volume, and mute. The fact that it was a cordless handset was a pleasant surprise. My testing showed that it had a pretty reasonable range and solid voice quality; I could exit the building and walk over hundred feet down the road before I noticed any breakup. One thing that would be nice, is if the handset allowed the plugging in of a headset with a 2.5 mm jack; on the other hand, serious “phone warriors” probably already have a cordless headset that they are hooked on, so the cordless handset here is just gravy. The cordless handset can be programmed to connect to a central “switchboard” to perform dialing by voice, even though it does not have a keypad on it.
The phone was quite usable, especially in comparison to other office phones that I have used. There are only a few buttons on it other than the keypad, and the marking on them make sense. When the “mute” button is used, it is quite clear that the phone has been muted (a bright orange light comes on). Transferring calls and performing conference calls is intuitive; anyone who has fumbled for ten minutes and dropped the conference call five times knows the pain that many of the phones have in using those two features! Accessing voicemail, establishing call forwarding, and so on was also extremely easy. Best of all, the on-phone help was simple to use, accurate, well worded (in plain, short text), and had depictions of the needed buttons that made it easy to follow along. Over all, I like the phone.
The Sun Ray is a thin-client terminal made by Sun. It has the ability to connect to UNIX, Linux, and Windows servers through various terminal systems, including X and Windows Terminal Services. The Sun Ray has a slot for an access card; plugging the card into the unit tell it which server to connect to, and automatically logs you into your phone as well. With the “Hot Desk” system, you do not need to log out of the system at all, you just pull the card and walk away. When you put the card into another phone, your session starts up quite quickly (under 5 seconds in my testing) and everything is exactly as you left it. Even better, your phone settings follow you. I was given two access cards, one for a user with a Windows account, and one for a Linux user. The only trouble I had with the cards was the time I put it in backwards, the Sun Ray 2 unit did not seem to notice that a card was put in incorrectly.
The Sun Ray 2 itself worked great. I tested this device from my home office. I spend a lot of time using Real VNC and Remote Desktop from my home office, and the Sun Ray 2 blew them away. Period. Mitel set me up with a Windows account and a Linux account (X term to a Cent OS server). The Windows machine ran at my full monitor resolution (1650 x 1050) at 16 bit color, and felt as responsive as a directly connected computer. What makes this even more amazing is that my connection is a cable modem connection, and their offices are located in Canada while my office is in South Carolina. That distance usually introduces enough latency so that you can “feel” it, but I did not notice it at all. Outside of that, the experience of using the Sun Ray 2 is strictly up to how the server on the other end is set up, so your mileage will vary.
It sounds good so far, the but phrase “thin client computing” always seems to raise string emotions. My experience has been that in some environments, for some workers, thin clients of this nature make perfect sense. I spent much of my time working in a call center, for example; in that call center, I really wished we had thin clients and not desktop PCs. Handling a shift change in a call center either involves a 15 Ð 30 minute period of having reduced staffing levels as some users close their day out and others get ready, using the same PCs, or it requires having twice as many PCs as the largest shift has employees and paying people overtime to come in early to set up. Either way, it is a lot of money. A great many workers do not do anything particularly resource intensive, yet the IT department has put an 80 watt space heater on their desk (which in turn needs the air conditioning to be working hard), just to use Word, Outlook, and Internet Explorer. The Sun Ray 2 unit uses under 10 watts of power, which can provide a significant cost savings on the client side, and server rooms are much easier to make energy efficient than desktop environments. And of course, a thin client scenario centralizes and consolidates storage/backups, allows the It department to “lock down” the system, eliminates concerns of removable storage, and so on. Thin clients are not for everyone, but they can be the right solution in some scenarios.
Unfortunately, I was not able to evaluate the server-side half of this equation, or the setting up of the access cards. But I can say that I am impressed with the performance of the device on my end. If you are in an environment with existing thin client users, or are looking to transition users to thin clients, the Mitel Unified IP client for Sun Ray packages are definitely worth your time to look at.