Sun pushes environmental benefits of thin clients

Scott McNealy claims that thinner is better when it comes to limiting damage to the environment

Sun has hit on a new tactic to convince reluctant IT professionals of the virtues of its thin-client approach to computing: touting the environmental benefits.

Speaking at the company's quarterly update event in Washington DC on Tuesday, Sun chief executive Scott McNealy said that thin clients — devices such as its SunRay — represent a more environmentally friendly approach to computing than the traditional client-server model.

"We think there is a real opportunity to be green with thin clients," McNealy said. "The number one benefit our employees are asking for is a thin client at home which beams down their complete work environment to their home. We actually get more work hours out of the employees at home and they are happier," he said.

Unlike traditional desktop PCs, thin clients do not require an internal fan for cooling and use less electricity as a result, added McNealy. "The SunRay is about a 15W device and we save about $2m to $3m a year at Sun by using thin clients as opposed to 'WinTel space-heaters' in every office — just because of the lower wattage," he said. Desktop PCs can typically use more than 100W.

Despite pushing the thin-client model since the early nineties Sun has failed to make significant headway with the technology, but extolling the environmental benefits may help as manufacturers and users face increasing pressure from government over recycling redundant technology.

Analyst group Gartner claims vendor recycling costs will ultimately be passed on to end-user organisations. In a recent research note, EU's New Recycling Rules could Drive-Up European PC Prices, the analyst group estimated that legal changes could add $60 (£33) to the price of PCs in Europe by 2005.

"From 2004, budgets should incorporate the costs of equipment disposal. From 2005, budgets should be allocated for a separate recycling fee. This will most likely be included in the purchase price of new PCs," said Gartner.

McNealy claimed that thin clients do not have to be upgraded as often as traditional PCs as all the sophistication lies with the server. "You are not creating all the landfill opportunities by obsolescing a PC every three years, I could go on and on and on," he said. "There are lots of ecological aspects to this environment. Anywhere from 20 to 150 users will share one microprocessor as opposed to all of us having one microprocessor that we hardly use. The utilisation on your PC microprocessor is probably 3 percent."

Sun also claims to have reduced the amount of commuting its employees are required to do by creating a local network of satellite offices so that employees only have to travel short distances during peak travelling hours. “We set up satellite offices to allow employees to commute to an office in a nearby neighbourhood and then they commute back to the larger campuses in off-hours so that we are not commuting during the rush hours,” said McNealy.

Sun’s claims for the environmental benefits of thin clients have to be considered in terms of the additional server capacity required by this model, but thin-client computing is also enjoying something of a resurgence, in large part thanks to Linux.

Late last year, car hire firm Europcar International migrated thousands of PCs across Europe from Windows fat clients to Linux thin clients, lowering both its hardware and maintenance costs. A recent IDC report suggested that Linux-based thin clients have reached about 20 percent of the total thin-client market.