To Go Green, Go Dumb (as in computing)

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
| Helping environmentally-conscientious business leaders choose environmentally-friendly solutions.

To Go Green, Go Dumb (as in computing)

The smartest computing solution environment-wise for organizations is to go dumb, as in dumb terminals.  

Richard 'Zippy' Grigonis, executive editor, Internet Telephony reports that network computing either with purpose-built thin-client systems or even 'lobotomized' PCs connected to a network server use less power than 'intelligent' PCs. 

Let's look at the numbers. Assuming flat panel LCD monitors (FPMs) at each workstation, and 300 watts (W) for a router, hubs, and firewall appliances for all scenarios: 

'Smart System' --120W for typical PC  

'Dumb' Systems: --100W for dumb PC 

Or --43.5W (40W alone for the FPMs) for fanless thin-client dumb terminals 

Plus 1000 W for fat server, off two load-sharing power supplies, to support dumb PCs and terminals 

Based on this it only takes 9 to 10 dumb units: thin-clients or dumb PCs connected to a fat server to equal the power consumption of 11 smart PCs. Beyond that you are 'green computing'. 

There are also other advantages of going dumb. These are lower IT support costs and improved security because employees cannot knowingly or unknowingly load sniffer software or 'bot' the system or download and walk off with data. Theft risk is less because who wants a computer that is 'stupid'? 

There are thin-client computers such as by , but by no means exclusive to Devon IT, Netvoyager, and Sun: 

Dumb computing is also for telecommuting workers, especially home agents. It lessens the cost, complex, and security issues with supporting them. There are now commercial thin client boxes like the eeePC by Asus that needs only an Ethernet connection 

What your ROI is for switching from smart to dumb will depend on total costs, installation or equipment rebuild, and energy, IT savings, and monetized security benefits. There is not only direct energy savings from the hardware but also from reduced cooling demand: PCs produce heat, and it is ventilation and cooling rather than heating that draws the most power. 

The 'green' benefits are fewer greenhouse gas emissions and/or other environmental consequences such as e.g. land for hydro dams and generating stations, and for unsightly transmission and distribution equipment. 

The actual environmental savings will depend on where your energy supplier gets their electricity. Solar and wind are the cleanest followed by hydro, biofuels, and natural gas, though hydro has its environmental consequences i.e. destruction of open, oxygen-generating space for reservoirs. 

Oil-fired generators, especially those that get their supplies from tar sands whose production process is an ecological nightmare, and coal, especially that extracted by blowing up mountaintops, are down the list. They are especially reliant on scrubbers to remove sulfur dioxide, but in doing so produce CO2. 

For the eco-conscious are companies that sell green power to businesses and consumers. One example is Bullfrog Power.
Thin-client computing may also lead to less e-waste because the units are smaller, with less toxic substances used in their construction (see the past post on this topic) and may less last longer because their principal obsolescence-prone component is the software. 

That 'small-is-beautiful' approach may make smart PCs the equivalent of SUVs. And that, according to the New York Times makes the PC vendors worried; they, like the automakers, rely on the big profits from the hulking but inefficient models. 

Will big "smart" PCs join the SUVs and the other dinosaurs? --BBR

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