back to article Corporate computing going thin to go green?

MP Alan Whitehead reckons it is not unfair to compare the computer industry to the airline business: all efforts are focused on the end user experience, he argues, without heed being paid to the effect the business has on the planet. Planes get faster and more comfortable (we can only assume he is travelling first class, …


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Yet another exaggerated power saving claim...

"Swap 1,000 PCs for a bunch of servers and the same number of thin clients, and you'll divide your electricity consumption by ten."

Nonsense. Given that at the very least a thin client is going to require a screen, then this implies that this component must be responsible for only 10% of your PC's power consumption. A typical corporate PC does not have to be a power-hungry monster with the latest 3D graphics card. For many it is a laptop. You can get a pretty powerful desktop running, on average, with less than 120W. Laptops or desktops using low power techniques can average down in the 50W region. Then your thin client will require at least some processing power of its own plus to offset the loss of local computing you will need more processing and storage at the centre (which will need air-conditioning) and higher speed (and more energy consumptive) networks. Then there is the little point that, during the winter at least, the cost of power used by local office computing is offset by some reduction in heating costs.

No - these claims of 90% reductions come from the same sort of unreliable sources that claim mobile phone chargers consume 4-5W from just being plugged in (witness all the adds all over London). Take a modern phone charger, measure it and you'll find the real figure is less than half a watt.

The answer to all this stuff is undoubtedly to produce more energy efficient appliances. But there is plenty of scope to do that on personal computers of whatever sort. Just don't put gaming cards and top-end processors in office PCs.

There are valid reasons for moving much computing resource centrally, but reduced electricity costs isn't the main one.



Is it unfair to compare IT to Airlines? I'm not sure: IT certainly doesn't drop it's prices to sod all, in order to get people to use servers or storage they otherwise wouldn't (like EasyJet dropping prices to a tenner to fly you half way across Europe for a weekend holiday you wouldn't otherwise take) But, there are many many servers running the OS with bugger all else on top of it for the vast majority of the time - how many companies have apps that run for a month or so at year end, but have a server permanently provisioned for this task? (This would be like flying half empty planes around.)

I think that as an industry we really need to clean up, but it seems that we are starting to do so. How many airlines can say that? Easyjet, are still claiming that they are green because they use new planes, missing the fact that they don't cease to exist or be used when they are removed from the easyjet fleet. This, however could be compared to having a three year life cycle on servers, which many companies do.

We really need to start sweating assets more, centralising desktop processing so that the desktop is dumb wherever possible (with the exception of multimedia type processing, which you really can't do from a dumb term.) the advantage with thin computing is that you can have X number of terms connected to a server, if you need more power you can add servers into the farm. This enables sharing of processing power and you can really use the processing power as efficiently as possible and using servers for longer because they can run fewer terms as newer software needs more power.

There are other benefits, air con can use far less energy in a buliding that uses dumb terms. No call centre monkeys will steal a dumb term, you don't need to develop anything like as complex a bulid for a term as a wokstation and they are less expensive to licence. (In case you haven't noticed I'm a fan!)

IT Angle

how exactly are planes getting faster, more comfortable and less 'green'?

30 years ago, you could fly in a commercial airliner at faster than the speed of sound. later on, concorde was updated to reach over twice the speed of sound.

30 years ago, even the russians had a supersonic commercial airliner (although it was retired in 1978 as it crashed at the paris air show, which sort of stopped anyone wanting one).

the aircraft nowadays run on such tight budgets that they have to cram as many passengers in as possible, so i don't think the comfort factor is even worth talking about.

and the new aircraft coming out (boeing 787, airbus a380) are generally advertised as being more economical per passenger mile than a family car.

perhaps el reg has a new intern starting who didnt do any research?


facts speak for themselves

I am seriously baffled by the ongoing cultural resistance to this approach.

The environmental impact of IT is well known, and well publicised. We know from the recent Gartner report (among others) that 25% of this can be aligned with the data centre, compared to 40% with the desktop!!

Add to this the more important aspect of Green IT, i.e. to enable the organisation to behaviour more responsibly, and we have to ask - why do we retain this cultural cling to our C:drives?!

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It's not just the energy saving ...

... it's the massive reduction in support costs that makes thin client such a cost-effective solution. While it (probably) isn't suitable for developers, for those who just need Office (whether Microsoft or Open) and/or a few web-based solutions thin client should be a no-brainer.



Excepting concorde, which, I'm sure you'll agree is a special case. Planes are tending to get faster.

I'm not sure where you get the tight budgets filling aircraft packed full from though. I occasionally fly short hop on business and have for several years (I wish I could take the train, but that's beside the point) I have NEVER seen the plane that I fly on full, this is BA, business oriented flight and from Heathrow mainly to Edinburgh at peak time. If you then go and look at Easyjet, some of their flights are packed, others offen have 20 people on a plane with a capacity of 200odd.

As for modern planes being more efficient than a car, how far are you going? How full are the planes? How full is the car? If you drive a car the equivilant of to New York, with four people in it, it's not going to be as efficient as a380 full of passengers. If however, you take an a380 on a couple of hundred mile jaunt there is no way that it'd be more efficient than a car.



To Dave - yes Concorde is a special case.

As for planes getting faster, then that's wrong. Or at least it has been since the advent of the 707 in 1958. That had a cruising speed of 974km/hr. The 747 has a cruising speed of between 895 & 913km/hr depending on model. Increasingly modern jets have cruising speeds of 900km/hr or less - typically 10% slower than those first generation of jet airliners. Why? Quite simply fuel efficiency. A modern transatlantic twin engined jet is about 40 minutes slowerr across the Atlantic than those early 1970s vintage jets. In any event, it's very unlikely that modern jets will get much faster as they get disproportionately less efficient as they near the speed of sound.

Now if it was cars you were talking about, then maybe you'd have a point.

Also a modern Jet is more fuel efficient than a current car then it clearly does depend on load factors. An A380 can theoretically manage considerably over 100 passenger miles per (imperial) gallon, albeit on the unrealistic expectation that it is full of economy class passengers. That would put it above most cars carrying two passengers on a long journey (although some claim that the high altitude effects multiply the effective CO2 effect). Interestingly that also puts it only about 50% worse on CO2 per passenger mile than typical European high-speed long-distance trains on typical load factors (yes, and I know that this isn't a completely fair comparison).

No, the really pernicious effect of planes is that they allow you to use fuel so much more quickly. It's viable in time terms to consider a week's skiing holiday in Colorado and use the equivalent of a whole year's average UK motoring's fuel in just 2% of a year. You can do a day return business trip from London to Berlin rather than take at least three days over it.

My real problem with a lot of the green agenda people is that they tend to exaggerate savings and present unrealistic figures that just don't bear scrutiny (like the micro-generation lobby). This is such an article - frankly a little bit of realistic analysis with the numbers would reveal that the 90% saving on energy usage presented her is moonshine.


And if the network goes down..

And if the network goes down - your staff are useless. On a normal PC they can still do things locally. For extra cleverness have a VoIP telephone system so that nothing works! **

I expect the cost of downtime greatly surpasses any electricity savings.

**I have seen this in action and it was hysterical.



Not certain the 'network goes down' commentary warrants response other than the fact I'm often astonished by the extent people give this argument credibility. It's fairly obvious that an organisation should focus on core server/services, as well as the network, providing sufficient availability and reliability in these architectures - that said, many cut costs in some unbelievable naive ways!

However, I think the point regarding the true cost savings is worthy of re-iteration. It is undoubtedly the time and investment it takes to revise and maintain locally distributed resources (hardware, OS or software) that represents the biggest area of potential cost saving here. Add to the the flexibility and agility gained by the IT function (e.g. increased mobility) and the ROI starts to talk for itself.

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Re: and if the network goes down

"And if the network goes down - your staff are useless. On a normal PC they can still do things locally ..."

Err, with a normal PC, the network goes down, users cannot do anything - they can't log in (no access to centralised login server), and even if they could then they wouldn't have access to any of the files they need to do anything.

Besides, "if network goes down" - swap out dead switch & carry on. If it's a server, well that's a case for having redundancy - but if you file (or accoounts or stock control or ...) server goes down then users aren't going to be doing much on thin client OR fat PC.


@anonymous coward

can't remember the last time our network went down other than for planned maintenance to specific servers which was advertised well ahead of time. But then we have a decent IT dept.

@simon hobson. Surely if you run a corproate network you'll be on Common Desktop or something similar. Network goes down, use your local file copies. Unless you've turned sync off, of course.

Unless you have specific needs for local computing power then thin client has to be the way to go. Power consumption is only part of the story and a small part at that. There's little or no local maintenance, software updates are handled centrally, software auditing ditto, and thin clients are way more resistant to obsolencence than desktops. We are looking at 7 years vs 3 which alone will more than halve our capital expenditure. Factor in reduced maintenance costs and it's a no-brainer.

@Reg: Please can we select more than one image.



Power Saving bogus?

Some fuzzy swag kinda math (based on Sun's marketing numbers), but even at 75 users per server, the numbers are pretty compelling:

So here are some 'very general' numbers, omitting the Monitors as they are a wash. PC = 80 Watts (avg)

T1000 Sun Ray Server = 220 Watts / 75 users = 2.9 Watts per user

x4100 X64 Windows Server = 550 Watts / 75 users = 7.33 Watts per user

Sun Ray 2 = 6 Watts per user


TTL - 16.2 Watts per user

*Savings* = 63.8 Watts per user. Multiply by 1,000 users and you start to get enough power savings to fuel Al Gore!


Well you obviously don't work in the public sector..

Normally when $public sector workplace's network goes down we lose contact with the outside world and other buildings. We are still able to access files on each machine's hard disk and one the local file server (which is in the same building). People login to the server in the building so you can always login, just not go anywhere else.

If this is introduced we'll have the same system (never seen a patch tuesday etc) but with added lack of redundancy. There is no way they'll spend any more on core facilities - this is about saving money (not the planet). The spin will be about the planet - of course!

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