One of the biggest buzz words in IT at the moment is Green IT. IT does not have the best image when it comes to ecology; data centers in particular have a bad reputation because of the massive amounts of energy they use. Hence, when people talk about Green IT they often focus on servers. But if you want to go green, you can't neglect the desktops. Depending on the hardware you use there is much room for improving the ecological footprint of your company.
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If you bring up the idea in your next executive board meeting it will get support but one question will be raised: What does it cost? If it involves high costs the support will dry up fast. But going green doesn't necessarily mean more expenditure. If everything is planned well, going green might even save the company some money. Here's an example of how we managed to go green and save some bucks:
Last year many of our desktops ran out of support and their advanced age caused more and more malfunctions. It was clearly time to get new computers. Up to that point we used common desktop hardware. A single desktop burned around 70 W when the desktop was idle; more when the computer was under load.
I thought there would be major improvements in the field of energy consumption in recent years. However, after the test examples from our hardware vendors arrived I measured their power consumption and was disappointed to discover that consumption was in more or less the same range as the old computers. Computing power, however, increased significantly. But because many of our desktops are only used for browsing the Internet and for scientific research in various online databases, they don't need a lot of CPU. So I ordered an Atom Ion-based computer for test purposes. I was surprised that it performed quite well—not enough to run Office or HD videos smoothly, but enough for browsing the web. The test example I got uses 18 W when idle and 24 W when running CPU burn.
This is a significant difference considering we usually exchange desktops after five years and our desktops run for 12 hours per day, every day per year. During this time span the energy savings from the Atom-based desktop would be around 919 kW. With energy prices around 0,14 EUR/kWh we would save around 128 EUR per computer. We have approximately 300 computers for public Internet access, so the energy savings would be 38.400 EUR over the five years.
Impressive? Kind of, but there are also some drawbacks:
The Atom platform is slow, and you have to thoroughly test if it meets the needs of the users. We never had a single complaint about the limited performance of the desktops in the whole year, but this is only due to their small area of operation. If you run CPU-intensive software, you should be aware that the performance per watt is much higher for Amd Athlon or Intel Core Duo processors.
If the desktops are in sleep mode or shut down most of the time the impact of a platform switch becomes less significant because both platforms burn around the same amount of energy when sleeping or turned off. Another point to consider is that the Atom platform isn't yet widely used in corporate environments. You will have a limited choice of vendors if you want extended business support. Last but not least, creating a clone image caused more work because of some exotic chips on the motherboard.
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All in all the decision to switch to Atoms was a good one: The financial department is happy because we spend less money, the helpdesk is happy because they have to carry a lot less when exchanging the desktops, and our consciences are happy because we waste less energy. Only the users’ happiness didn't increase: They haven't noticed any change.