Virtualization, Thin Clients, and Energy Consumption

In previous posts I documented a financial strategy that allows the average district to afford ubiquitous and/or one-to-one computing. This week I want to broaden the strategy to energy savings. It’s amazing what a significant savings replacing traditional ‘fat clients’ with ‘thin clients’ can be.

The University of Pennsylvania produced the energy graph below which shows the average PC drawing more than 100 watts during moderate use. This doesn’t include the monitor which on average can draw approximately 75 watts. So, for the sake of today’s post, let’s settle on 175 watts for the average energy use of a typical desktop used in our schools.


Below is another chart, from the Mr. Electricity blog, showing ranges of PC energy use.


The chart below, from Steve Greenburg, President of Thin Client Solutions, shows the average energy used by several models of WYSE Thin Clients. The 3630 model uses more energy because it has a built in monitor. The other energy readings are without monitors.


From the same report, notice that the amount of energy consumed by Thin Clients is significantly less compared to the traditional PC.


What kind of savings can we expect by implementing a Thin Client solution? Let’s look at a district with 1,000 computers.


1. 175 watts used by each computer.

2. Each computer in moderate use 6 hours per day; 185 days per year.

3. Computers left on overnight and during the summer use approximately 35 watts.

4. The Thin Client solution uses 6 watts plus 75 watts for the monitor.

5. A utility rate of $.14 per kilowatt hour

Using these assumptions, the total amount spent on energy for our 1,000 computers is $64,680.

Now, let’s do the same calculation with the Thin Client solution

The approximate savings by implementing Thin Clients for our 1,000 computer network is $29,291 per year; a 45% savings in energy costs.

The 5 year savings = $146,455

$146,455 can be used to purchase quite a few new $450 devices.

BTW, it’s not only cost effective; but the right thing to do for our environment


Note: Obviously, energy use can vary based on many equipment and usage factors. The savings shown here are illustrative only.

12 thoughts on “Virtualization, Thin Clients, and Energy Consumption

  1. Sent this to our Tech Supervisor. Would love to see you at our Tech PDD Convocation in 09-10. We have a year to work on it.


  2. Excellent and very timely article. We’ve been deploying more thin clients lately. We had been using a K12 Linux terminal server environment for the last four years. Recently I rebuilt the server in our VMWare ESX center as a new linux terminal server, updating the software to Ubuntu 8.10. We’ve also increased the number of clients connecting to the server and currently support thirty thin clients. We are actively pursuing this new paradigm and we’re finding increased teacher buy in. With more and more applications in a cloud rather than on the desktop these thin clients make sense and I think if you factor in Linux thin client solution you’re definitely going to save money as old fat clients can be repurposed and PXE boot from a Linux terminal server. We are currently using re-purposed desktops as thin clients and have actually purchased some thin client specific solutions from

  3. Don,
    I’ve been doing ‘proof of concepts’ with partners in schools throughout NYS and CT. So far, they have been very successful. I’ve been conservative with OS’s etc. but I agree that if we can get more folks to open their eyes these new solutions, we can change the technology status quo that is weighing us all down financially and pedagogically.


  4. As a person who works for Dell I think your article about Virtualization, Thin Clients, and Energy Consumption is really helpful.Virtualization reduces operating and capital costs, improves utilization of computing resources and greater IT staff productivity.

  5. This is a useful comparison, but we shouldn’t forget that there is an additional energy component: Servers. Yes, there are servers running anyway, but the OS and applications required for thin clients do need more server backend.

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