Green IT: Does Hosted Desktop Virtualization Help?

Hosted desktop virtualization is one of the major technology enablers of BYOPC. So, in that vein, I must digress. My question: does hosted desktop virtualization lead to less power used in the organization? My answer: No.

Think about it. Yes, we are moving from a full blown PC (or laptop) to a thin client. However, a monitor is kept in both PC and thin client scenarios. But, I will agree that we have just cut the PC power from roughly 100 kw/hour to 10 kw/hour. But how about all of the servers in the datacenter (we are talking 30-50 users/server)? How about all of the storage — and the BC/DR storage? The networks (that were there before but may need to beefed up)? How about HVAC and all of the environmentals?

I speak to our clients about this everyday — I have hosted many panels on this topic as well. Universally, the folks that i have spoken to who have moved to hosted desktop virtualization are not seeing less power used — they are seeing much more. They are just seeing a transference of power so that it is not in the building facilitates budget but in the datacenter.

Finally, in the majority of implementations that I am seeing today, companies are not even moving to thin clients immediately. Why? To save costs. They figure (and I agree) that they can double the length of their PCs. So, again, if i am not going to move to thin clients for another 3+ years, moving to hosted desktop virtualization will be anything BUT a green IT story.

VERY interested in your thoughts! Please comment here and lets get a dialog going.

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4 Responses to Green IT: Does Hosted Desktop Virtualization Help?

  1. Doug Lane says:

    There are many benefits to centralized desktop computing (e.g., security, managability, etc.), but green IT and hardware cost savings are not among them. Virtualization’s intial wave of server consolidation in the data center is clearly very green. However, at a very minimum the jury is still out on whether running desktops in the data center is green. You might be able to make these case on paper, but data center buildouts tend to take on a life of their own with backup, storage, cooling, etc. as you ellude to. Also, beyond your point about people not wanting to do wholesale replacement of older desktops with thin clients, most organizations I have talked to have a sizeable population of mobile laptop users–often over 50%. So those users are never going plug their laptops in at the office?

    It would be great to hear from some real-world users on this.

    Disclosure: I work for a desktop virtualizaton vendor, Virtual Computer.

  2. Mark Moeller says:

    I do agree that hosting virtual desktops is a great way to enable BYOPC. I don’t think BYOPC is a green technology since it requires a full laptop but also doubt that anyone is offering BYOPC as a Green IT initiative.

    However, hosted virtual desktops “DaaS” can be a green IT enabler for those clients replacing their “energy hog” desktops with thin clients. For those, and I agree most do initially, that want to extend their existing hardware lifecycle, they are increasing power consumption by adding the layer of server based desktop computing on top of the old PCs chugging along. Regardless of all the TCO calculators, in today’s economy no one is willing to spend real dollars today to save projected money over the next few years particularly if it involves throwing away the old PC that still works.

    So, does DaaS support Green IT? Yes, DaaS enables the use of thin clients and even while requiring additional servers in the hosting center, ultimately saves energy. When considering HVAC for additional servers don’t forget about the huge reduction in heat that results from eliminating all those desktop PCs. The fact that the energy cost savings in the building facilities budget causes an increase in datacenter budget is an internal budget issue not a Green issue. As long as overall power consumption is reduced, who cares what part of the building the power is used.

    Do clients move to DaaS as a Green IT initiative? Not initially if they are not replacing all of their desktops with thin clients. Realistically most Enterprises replace their end point devices on a 3-5 year cycle. As the old desktop PCs are phased out the reduction in power occurs. It’s a business cycle not an overnight change.

    Does DaaS provide a future direction for Green IT? Yes, DaaS positions the Enterprise to reduce power consumption as they replace desktop PC with thin clients. Some get there faster than others depending on the hardware refresh cycle.

    Your statements, “My question: does hosted desktop virtualization lead to less power used in the organization? My answer: No,” and “moving to hosted desktop virtualization will be anything BUT a green IT story,” are unfair and over generalizations depending on the Enterprise’s use cases, implementation plans, and business drivers. Most clients we talk to have specific business needs and Green IT is way down at the bottom of the list. Let’s be honest, most people in IT management see Green IT as a politically correct benefit resulting from reducing power consumption and saving money. As a business decision, particularly in today’s economy, it’s all about saving money and everyone can feel good about supporting conservation and the environment by labeling it Green IT.

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that desktop virtualization can deliver green benefits, but only indirectly…

    At the end of the day, desktop virtualization is an “enabler” of greener computing (e.g. reduced CO2 emissions and e-waste from thin clients) or greener business (e.g. reduced CO2 emissions from commuting due to remote working) – but it does not deliver green benefits on its own.

    I’ll use two examples to elaborate on the term “enabler” that I used above. Let’s assume that thin clients can deliver energy savings – even after the addition of new energy-drawing data center equipment that Natalie alluded to above. While desktop virtualization is essential to thin client computing, it’s the energy-efficient and long lasting design of the thin clients that actually reduces carbon emissions and e-waste. In this case, desktop virtualization is an enabler but not the cause of greener computing.

    Likewise, organizations can reduce the carbon emissions from staff commuting into the office with remote and home workers. And the security and manageability benefits of desktop virtualization can help IT support these workers. While desktop virtualization can be an important element in supporting these remote workers, it’s the employees not getting in their cars and consuming gas that actually reduces carbon emissions. Once again, desktop virtualization is an enabler but not the cause of greener business.

    As a final thought, remember that the presence of desktop virtualization does not guarantee green benefits. As Mark Moeller (from the post above) points out, if you’re looking to reduce energy, desktop virtualization may actually have the opposite effect. How? If you virtualize your old “energy hog” desktops versus moving to more efficient thin clients, no energy will be saved. In fact, total energy consumption will increase due to the server and storage build out in the data center necessary to run a virtual desktop environment.

    [As an aside, I’m also a Forrester Analyst focusing on the role of the IT infrastructure and operations professional. My coverage area is on green IT and energy efficient IT. Natalie sits around the corner from me and we regularly “squabble” about whether or not desktop virtualization and thin clients actually offer green benefits. I was naturally intrigued when she mentioned the “green” discussion on her BYOPC blog.]

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