IGEL Touts the Green Effect of Thin Clients
March 31, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
It may seem intuitively obvious that a shift from personal computers to thin client computers on the desktop should yield a significant savings in energy, but to be sure, you have to really dig into the costs and account for the differences between the two types of clients, but also apportion some energy consumption of the servers that feed the thin clients.
German thin client maker IGEL Technology, like other small end user device makers, wants to use every angle it can to peddle its products, and to that end the company recently put together a comparative study that looked at the power and cooling costs of PCs and TCs in enterprise computing environments, and then turned that into how many carbon dioxide emissions could be saved.
To do the comparison, IGEL pulled out one of its thin clients, which burns 16 watts as it is operating. The company then grabbed a standard X64 server and created a worst-cased scenario of 20 thin clients being fed by a single server. So that comes to an allocation of an extra 41 watts of juice for each thin client, which when added together totals 57 watts, which is still a lot better than the 85 watts the company estimated the typical PC burns as it is running. When you do the math for an eight hour a day operation for 220 working days a year–look at how much vacation Germans get compared to Americans, who are doing 245 to 250 days a year on average in my estimation–that works out to 28 kilowatt-hours per year for the thin client plus 72 kilowatt-hours for the slice of the server (for a total of 100 kilowatt-hours per year), compared to 149 kilowatt-hours for the PC. If you pay 0.15 euros per kilowatt and you have 100 thin clients or 100 PCs, that works out to 422 euros for the thin clients plus 1,082 euros for the server slice driving the client (for a total of 1,504 euros), compared to 2,235 euros for 100 PCs. The thin client-server setup burns 51 percent juice.
To put this into a carbon dioxide perspective, IGEL then applied these savings to the total combined thin client sales in Western Europe between 2004 and 2007 (inclusive). A combined 3.4 million thin clients were shipped into that market, which works out to 166,521 metric tons of carbon dioxide that would have been pumped into the atmosphere. Because we don’t think in terms of carbon dioxide gas yet, that works out to more than 544 transatlantic flights between London and New York.
Two things become obvious in these comparisons. First, servers burn too much juice, and it skews the energy consumption in the thin client approach. So if you want to have a dramatic impact, carbon-wise, it seems that using the absolutely most efficient server is key. The second thing I want everyone to consider is another point that I do not hear discussed very often out there in the IT press: What is the energy and environmental impact of shifting away from PCs to laptops? I dumped my desktop PC for a laptop last year, and based on shipment numbers coming out of the PC makers, so have a lot of other people. Just applying energy conservation settings in the laptop, moving to lower-powered memory and disk drives, and modestly powered CPUs can have a huge impact on energy savings, too. Presumably.