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A holistic use of thin clients

Yesterday saw a workshop on Sustainable IT at the new Queen Margaret University campus in Musselburgh. The workshop was ostensibly about "new ways of working" but another major focus was on how the adoption of thin clients allowed the architects to design an more environmentally friendly campus. Thin clients use less power on the desktop than PCs, which means less heat is generated in the classrooms, labs and open working areas. For QMU, this meant that the building can use natural cooling and ventilation, saving considerably more energy in addition to the saving from the terminals themselves.

The switch to thin clients was also used to introduce the use of virtual desktops. These let staff and students access their work from anywhere on the campus and from home. Staff are encouraged to work from home when it suits them. On campus, staff now work in open plan areas rather than offices; overall, the extra freedom seems to outweigh any disadvantage from the change.

The energy saving aspect of the QMU deployment contrasts with the experience of Merrill Lynch, who found that the servers and associated equipment used at least as much extra energy as was saved on the desktop. QMU's holistic approach means that the reduction on the desktop is leveraged to gain further savings overall. This is a very sensible and productive use of thin clients.

This workshop was led by the SusteIT project, which is running a series of such workshops. I have been helping them by finding speakers and providing material on data centres, grid and virtualisation. Back in June, we ran a workshop on data centre cooling and power supplies, and this is one area where QMU could improve. Their server room is fairly small by industry standards but even so they could almost certainly cut their power bills further by adopting the latest technology. It seems the quest for energy efficiency can always find further improvements.

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