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Corporate computing going thin to go green?

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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, because economy has certainly not become more sofalike) and data gets pumped around more quickly, but at a massive cost to the environment, he says.

The solution must be to change the way we run corporate computing, he argues, and the weathervane of change is pointing to the thin client.

We (assorted hacks, flacks, and company spokespeople, plus one bonus member of parliament) are sitting in a basement room of a posh London hotel, lights blazing, discussing how best to reduce the carbon footprint of corporate computing in the UK.

The main thrust of the argument Wyse computing is putting forward is that using thin clients can save you money on your electricity bill, reduce the need for hardware refreshes, and make you greener (did I hit all those key messages, or was there one about fewer moving parts that I missed?).

We're pretty sure we've heard this one before. And before any of you ask, yes, they did bring up the idea of utility computing. It'll be down to the the telcos to sort out, though. We'll not mention it again, promise.

The numbers are compelling, however. 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. Sod the environment, that's real money.

"Companies have an obligation to get the best value for their shareholders, so showing the value proposition is the best way of persuading people to go green," notes Wyse's Euro marketing chief, David Angwin.

Angwin reckons you certainly start seeing savings when swapping 20-30 PCs for thin clients, adding: "I'd like to run the numbers for fewer, I have a gut feel you could make it pay even with five."

One thing the meeting highlights is just how much company culture and policy can affect the running costs. Angwin says many companies have policies advising users to leave their PCs running 24/7. This is for security updates, and to allow out of hours maintenance. Swap that over to a thin client model and all the maintenance is centralised. Workstations can be switched off, and IT can keep control.

But if the thin client model is so good, why isn't everyone going for it? "Maybe green will be the motivating factor," Angwin says, acknowledging that the arguments haven't really gained much traction in the past.

Things, he argues, are looking up. IDC predicts that in 2007, 14 per cent of new corporate machines will be thin clients, taking the installed total in the UK to roughly eight per cent of corporate desktops. Apparently, those renowned forward thinkers in Scandinavia have closer to 15 per cent already.

And that is when everyone starts getting carried away to a green utopia where all business is sustainable. One delegate even has a pop at those journalists who are still using paper notepads. So wasteful, he says. Electronic paper will be much better. We think he might have missed the point. ®

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