The Sun Ray was a stateless thin client computer (and associated software) aimed at corporate environments, originally introduced by Sun Microsystems in September 1999 and discontinued by Oracle Corporation in 2014. It featured a smart card reader and several models featured an integrated flat panel display. The idea of a stateless desktop was a significant shift from, and the eventual successor to, Sun's earlier line of diskless Java-only desktops, the JavaStation.
The concept began in Sun Microsystems Laboratories in 1997 as a project codenamed NetWorkTerminal (NeWT). The client was designed to be small, low cost, low power, and silent. It was based on the Sun Microelectronics MicroSPARC IIep. Other processors initially considered for it included Intel's StrongARM, Philips Semiconductors' TriMedia, and National Semiconductor's Geode. The MicroSPARC IIep was selected because of its high level of integration, good performance, low cost, and availability.
NeWT included 8 MiB of EDO DRAM and 4 MiB of NOR flash. The graphics controller used was the ATI Rage 128 because of its low power, 2D rendering performance, and low cost. It also included an ATI video encoder for TV-out (removed in the Sun Ray 1), a Philips Semiconductor SAA7114 video decoder/scaler, Crystal Semiconductor audio CODEC, Sun Microelectronics Ethernet controller, PCI USB host interface with 4 port hub, and I²C smart card interface. The motherboard and daughtercard were housed in an off-the-shelf commercial small form-factor PC case with internal +12/+5VDC auto ranging power supply.
NeWT was designed to have feature parity with a modern business PC in every way possible. Instead of a commercial operating system. the client ran a real-time operating system called "exec", which was originally developed in Sun Labs as part of an Ethernet-based security camera project codenamed NetCam. Less than 60 NeWTs were ever built and very few survived; one is in the collection of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California.
In July 2013, reports circulated that Oracle was ending the development of the Sun Ray and related products. Scott McNealy (long-time CEO of Sun) tweeted about this. An official announcement was made August 1, 2013, with a last order in February 2014. Support and hardware maintenance were available until 2017.
In contrast to a thick client, the Sun Ray is only a networked display device, with applications running on a server elsewhere, and the state of the user's session being independent of the display. This enables another feature of the Sun Ray; portable sessions where a user can go from one Sun Ray to another and continue their work without closing any programs. With a smart card, all the user had to do was insert the card and they would be presented with their session. Reauthentication requirements depend on the mode of operation. For example, without the smart card the procedure was almost identical, except the user must specify their username as well as password. In either case, if a session did not yet exist, a new one would be created the first time the user connects.
Sun Ray clients are connected via an Ethernet network to a Sun Ray Server. Sun Ray Software (SRS) is available for the Solaris and Linux operating systems. Sun developed a separate network display protocol, Appliance Link Protocol (ALP), for the Sun Ray system.
VMware announced support for the protocol by VMware View in 2008.
The Sun Ray Software has two basic modes of operation: generic session or kiosk mode. In a generic session, the user will see the Solaris or Linux login screen of the operating system that is running SRS. In kiosk mode, the login screen varies depending on the session type in use. Kiosk mode can be used for a number of different desktop or applications. Oracle has integrated a RDP client, VMware View client into the Sun Ray software that can be used in Kiosk mode to start a full screen Windows session. In this mode, no window manager or Unix desktop is started. The Windows environment can be any OS that supports RDP.
In 2007, Sun and UK company Thruput integrated the Sun Ray 2FS with 28" (2048 × 2048), 30" (2560 × 1600) and 56" (3840 × 2160) displays; in 2008 they trialed an external graphics accelerator that enables the Sun Ray to be used with any high resolution display.
The Sun Ray 3 models were the last in production; last order date February 28, 2014; last ship date August 31, 2014.
Sun's OEM partners produced Wi-Fi notebook versions of Sun Ray:
The Sun Ray 1 clients initially used a 100 MHz MicroSPARC IIep processor, followed by a custom SoC version codenamed Copernicus (US 6,993,617 B2), which was based on the MicroSPARC IIep core, but added 4 MiB of on-chip DRAM, USB, and a smart card interface in addition to the memory controller and PCI interface already on the MicroSPARC IIep.
The Sun Ray 2 and 3 clients use the MIPS architecture-based RMI Alchemy Au1550 processor.
A pure software implementation, Sun Desktop Access Client, was introduced as part of Sun Ray Software 5 (SRS5). This was later rebranded by Oracle as Oracle Virtual Desktop Client; it was discontinued along with the Sun Ray product line in 2014.
In commercial environments, Sun Rays were most commonly deployed as a thin client to access a Microsoft Windows desktop using the SRSS built-in RDP client uttsc. The desktop can be a Terminal Server session or a Virtual Machine (VDI). This setup is flexible and works well in many environments because the intermediate Sun Ray Server layer is transparent to the Windows desktop. At the same time however, this transparency can also become an issue for software that is location dependent. If location dependent information needs to be added it is possible to extend the functionality of the Sun Ray software with additional custom scripts. The Sun Ray Wiki offers a "Follow Me Printing" setup as an example, e.g. a user always gets the nearest printer as default printer when going from room-to-room or location-to-location, also inside their Windows session. It is relatively easy for an administrator to extend and add to this functionality as required.