“Green IT“: Thin Clients lower energy and administration costs
Retail is discovering many different ways to conserve energy: New lights, new cooling agents for frozen foods and new architecture. You can also save energy in Information Technology. From the warehouse all the way to the store – computers manage multifaceted processes. Manufacturers claim that Thin Clients could significantly lower energy costs. And they make a good case for this statement.
“Green IT“ has become a much debated hot topic during the past few years. At the last EucoCIS the focus was also on this subject. If a company saves energy in the Information Technology area, it not only lowers its operating costs, but it also improves its image in the eyes of the critical public. By consolidating heterogeneous IT systems, the number of servers and data processing centers can be reduced. Data processing centers are enormous energy gluttons – for the processors, ventilators and air conditioning. A virtualization – the grouping of different user programs in powerful computers – can also decrease energy consumption. If you convert your IT though, you reach deep into the inner workings of operating procedures. Revolutions carry risks, which is why gradual changes and proportional modernizations are more desirable.
ITK is targeted to become a key for modern climate-and environmental protection in Germany. The IT-inter-trade organization Bitkom together with IT users in July 2009 therefore formed a so-called “Green IT Alliance“, which supports science and several departments of the Federal Government as partners. Together they want to further develop the political and economical agenda of green information technology and unlock climate protection potentials through the ITK. There are no tangible results yet, and insiders criticise the sluggishness of this project, since too many partners have to be juggled here.
Thin Clients in retail – Example Edeka
Concrete user projects are promising more success, which is already evident in retail. An example is the use of Thin Clients, which are trimming-down computers without an internal hard drive and no ventilation. Being connected to a data processing center, they make it possible to centrally control many PC workstations remotely all at once. New software does not have to be downloaded to each computer any more, and users are no longer able to install any of their own software, which might possibly be infected with a virus. In retail, PCs are not only available in the offices of the headquarters, but are now also available in warehouses and retail stores at the check-out counter. The connection to the Internet is not an issue any longer.
Last year, Edeka in Northern Bavaria-Saxony-Thuringia expanded its desktop environment with Thin Clients. Without additional expenditure, 250 additional IT workstations were created. In addition to this, compared to a pure PC setting, the energy consumption is 75 percent less, reports the German manufacturer Igel, which is one the largest suppliers of Thin Clients worldwide.
The reason for Edeka’s modernization was the introduction of a new inventory control system on SAP basis. The old cash register system of all 37 C+C superstores had to be renewed. The cost comparison clearly spoke in favour of Thin Clients. Each branch has between eight and twenty Thin Clients, aside from another two PCs at most branches for special applications, like for example a temperature logging computer to control the dairy cases. The central Citrix-Servers work with a Blade Server-infrastructure in the data processing centers in both Würzburg and Rottendorf. Virtually all applications for all of the stores are made available from there. Another element of the new IT-infrastructure of the Edeka C+C-stores is the new cash register systems, which are now directly connected to the SAP-system. Every 15 minutes they transfer document data to the central SAP-Server. A cash point server in each branch updates price changes and other daily up-to-date information over night.
Centralization favors Thin Clients
Retail headquarters presently are seeking centralization of branch-and customer data as well as centralization of inventory control systems and corporate finance. IT workstations are also to become standardized. This works well with Thin Clients, because they operate without their own hard drive and they are also referred to as Server Based Computing (SBC) or Hosted Virtual Desktops (HVD). In Server Based Computing all basic applications are centrally run on terminal servers, and even the data protection and back-up is done centrally. In desktop virtualization, entire PC Desktops are virtually maintained in the data processing center. All in all the availability of applications increases to practically 100 percent. Server and client at the desktop only exchange control data– e.g. from keyboard, monitor peripheral devices like RFID- or barcode scanners or EC-check card readers.
According to information from Igel, operating costs with Thin Clients decreased compared to conventional PCs, also called Fat Clients, by up to 70 percent – this is due to less energy consumption as well as a more cost efficient and location independent administration. This is documented by a profitability study of the Fraunhofer-Institute for Environmental-Safety-and Energy -Technology UMSICHT. According to this study, a completely manually maintained PC costs about 4,600 Euro per year, while a software protected administrated PC costs 2,800 Euro per year. However, a Thin Client desktop consumes just less than 1,500 Euro. The scientists of the Fraunhofer Institute only assumed an operating time of five years in their study. In actuality, retail devices are used far longer – with rising administration costs.
Retail struggles with tight margins with ever increasing pressure from competition. Green reasons are currently very trendy, especially since one can win brownie points with consumers. However, Thin Clients don’t catch the customer’s eye as much as new architecture and a new store design. Financial managers at retail headquarters therefore might only look at the cost of Thin Clients when weighing pros and cons. Yet if the environment can also profit, it will certainly also be used for marketing purposes. During the next Euroshop, “green“ remains an important topic.