Hummingbird JuMPs Into Thin Clients

Hands On Review

Thin clients are becoming commonplace enough that managing them is an issue that companies are increasingly dealing with. A number of solutions are springing up to help with the configuration and management of thin clients. In this review, we’ll take a look at one such product, JuMP from Hummingbird Communications Ltd.

JuMP serves as a management platform for a number of thin client applets that Hummingbird offers, including Exceed Web, a Thin X solution for X86 access to Unix applications, and HostExplorer Web, a Web-to-host solution that provides TN3270 and TN5250 access.

We initially presumed JuMP to be a competitor to Windows NT Terminal Server. This, however, is not the case. JuMP is designed to manage an environment where Windows clients access Unix systems or host systems through a Web environment. Under this model, Windows clients can run X-server applications on the Unix server. Likewise, these same Windows clients can have TN3270, TN5250, and Telnet access to mainframe systems.

Hummingbird is targeting the Windows client marketplace, where the greatest growth environment exists, and is planning on expand the product deeper into the Unix arena. In this first release, supported clients are limited to Windows 9x and NT Workstation, and the JuMP server runs on Windows NT Server 4.0. Hummingbird is contemplating adding Unix clients.

The test platform
The systems and network used to test JuMP was composed of a Microsoft Windows NT 4.0 Server with Service Pack 4 installed running on a dual processor Pentium-233 system with 256 MB of memory. To support the Unix clients and operations, we installed a Linux 2.0 server on a Pentium-166 server with 128 MB of memory and fast UDMA disk drives. The servers were on a switched 100 Mbps fiber optic Ethernet backbone system. This network is purely switched and TCP/IP routed with an internal DNS and WINS to support the network.

JuMP is the glue that ties together HostExplorer Web and Exceed Web. For this review, we opted to focus on the NT and Unix operations and did not test the HostExplorer capabilities. JuMP provides the Web server, lightweight directory access protocol, and server synchronization for add-in servers. Add-in servers include HostExplorer and Exceed Web. JuMP also houses the Jconfig management interface, which includes the administration tools used to create, modify, and manage the entire system of user accounts and software.

Installing JuMP begins with an installation of Sun Java Runtime Environment version 1.1.6, which is provided on the CD. It takes slightly less than 3 MB of disk space and is painless to perform. The next step is the installation of the LDAP server, which takes a few minutes and a few megabytes of storage space. Finally, the JuMP server is installed. All of these tools installed as services on the NT Server machine, which needs a Web server for network access. After installing the products, we next accessed the JuMP server via the Web access.

Operations and administration
Working with the product was somewhat problematic because it is built using Java. The client must be running Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 Service Pack 1. Netscape users are out of luck with this version. Adding users is easy, and granting permissions was a simple task. Creating users is the first thing that must be done; however, you can import users from existing NT domains to speed the process.

Groups are members of the domain, and also registered with the LDAP server as resources on the network. As such, users inside the groups will consume one license. All administrative functions are Web driven. This means there are no administration programs to install to desktops and nothing to update, which reduces the loading on the client. We liked the way this eased administration.

With user accounts and groups created, the next step is to produce the customized login desired for each user. You'll define profiles for the users so that when they log in a Java applet will run launching the user into whatever environment defined by the JuMP administrator. The log in is accomplished by pointing the user's browser to the \\servername of the JuMP server. Multiple add-on servers can be used to load balance the users, but all add-ons must be placed on the same segment of the network as the main JuMP server. We thought this could be a potential bottleneck -- one that should be remedied.

Potential problems and issues
JuMP requires servers to be installed on the same network since JuMP uses UDP broadcasts to find other servers. JuMP also demands that all the servers use statically assigned IP addresses, which it should. With that being the case, the servers should know where one another are located. If you need to expand the number of servers, you could theoretically have a dozen servers on one segment all doing UDP broadcasts for resource discovery. This is a nasty proposition, and the configuration shouldn't be limited in this way, especially since the clients can be on any other network segment and still get to the servers.

Another concern is that if the main JuMP server reboots in the middle of the night the add-on servers must be rebooted, too. This seems to make some sense to keep the servers synchronized to the main JuMP server, but we feel this should happen automatically. Otherwise, who is going to come in at 4:00 AM to reboot the servers?

Hummingbird officials say forthcoming versions of JuMP will address these shortcomings. In the 1.0 version of this product, UDP broadcasts were used to find and resolve the other servers in the suite. The 1.0.1 release, which is clearing beta, eliminates this UDP broadcasting except for communications between the databases of the servers.

Summary
JuMP has a lot of potential as a thin client proxy system, but it still has some important ground to cover. The concept of having all of the servers on the same segment has to go. Distributed computing has come a long way and needn’t move backwards like this. Likewise, the limited browser support will surely cripple any chances for JuMP to expand in the marketplace.

Still, we see potential for the product, primarily as a Unix and mainframe proxy server for Windows clients. An even greater potential is to provide Unix clients with a proxy to NT Server resources, given the growing use of Linux in the enterprise and the massive size of the NT Server market.

Hummingbird JuMP
Hummingbird Communications Ltd.
North York, Ontario, Canada
Phone: (416) 496-2200
Fax: (416) 496-2207
www.hummingbird.com

Price: $1,595 (JuMP only)
+ Easy Install
+ Administration interface is Web accessible
+ Supports multiple add-on servers for access to mainframe and Unix servers
- Add-on servers must be on same network segment
- Only IE browser is supported
- Add-on servers must reboot after JuMP server reboots