VDI: How to deliver environmentally sustainable IT

Combining VDI and UC can drive down power consumption, introduce remote working and therefore reduce carbon footprint, according to this expert.

Despite the current focus on cutting costs, environmentally sustainable business continues to be a topic of discussion for many management teams. As the recession deepens, organisations are looking beyond the increasingly unpopular carbon offsetting towards fundamentally transforming operations to drive down carbon emissions, costs and, critically, reflect the demands for sustainable business practice.

By combining the growing interest in Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) with Unified Communications (UC) organisations can not only drive down power consumption significantly but create an environment that supports a fundamental shift in working practice. From hot-desking strategies that more than halve the number of devices required to cost effective, secure remote working, organisations now have the opportunity to leverage technology to deliver significant reductions in the carbon footprint – and deliver bottom line value.

Changing focus
As organisations begin to face up to the increasing likelihood of government legislation on the carbon emitted during the production, distribution and disposal of goods, there is a realisation that every aspect of business needs to consider its carbon footprint. And, of course, IT equipment is a major contributor as a result of its huge power consumption.

Greener IT is not just about reassessing the IT infrastructure to drive down the carbon impact; it is about working practices.


>Chris de Silva, Managing Director, NEC Philips Unified Solutions,

But greener IT is not just about reassessing the IT infrastructure to drive down the carbon impact; it is about working practices. Would home or remote working reduce employee travel significantly? Can video conferencing cut down travel to meetings? And can hot-desking significantly reduce the desktop infrastructure?

All of these decisions, of course, have to balance both cost and environment: however keen an organisation is to publish its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, the underpinning business focus has to be the bottom line.

The good news is that many of the tools and techniques for improving the green status of the IT department will also cut costs significantly.

Virtual approach
The adoption of virtualisation across the data centre, for example, can dramatically reduce power consumption by reducing the number of physical machines and associated air conditioning. And while there are still some concerns about the robustness of server virtualisation for production equipment, even the adoption of the virtual model within the test and development environment will drive down power consumption, saving money and boosting green credentials.

But server virtualisation is just the start. By adopting the Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI), organisations have the opportunity to fundamentally transform working practices whilst further reducing power costs.

The new thin client devices that are used in a virtual desktop environment use at most 30% of the power of the PCs they replace – and that includes the proportion of server power they require. They are highly recyclable and have a far longer lifespan, reducing the lifetime acquisition and disposal costs.

New model
Given the clear cost and environmental benefits, it is little surprise that the vast majority of organisations now have VDI on the table for strategic assessment over the next 12-18 months. However, many have yet to recognise the very real effect VDI can have on working practices. It is by combining virtualisation with Unified Communications that organisations can truly transform the working environment, saving money, reducing the carbon footprint and delivering an improved work/life balance for employees.

By incorporating the IT and telephony solution into one thin client device, organisations can further reduce power consumption and costs – and significantly reduce the maintenance overhead.

Indeed, the VDI model fundamentally transforms the environmental impact of desktop support. Thin client devices can be supported remotely, significantly reducing the carbon emissions associated with sending support staff on site. As a further benefit, this remote management also increases uptime, boosting employee productivity and drastically reducing costs.

How to implement flexible working and reducing devices
Several local authorities in England & Wales are currently restructuring, replacing several small offices with a single centralised office space that represents only 25% of the desk space of the previous infrastructure.

In this hot-desk environment, users not only gain immediate access to their data, regardless of the location from which it was last accessed, but the UC technology also automatically transfers that user's telephone number to the current extension. This enables employees to work anywhere in the building at any time, fundamentally improving space utilisation and reducing waste.

This integrated approach works not only in the office, it also supports far more cost effective home and remote working, with calls automatically re-routed to the most appropriate telephone number.

The thin client architecture ensures that critical data is never held on the machine – users can exploit wi-fi or 3G connections to access the corporate servers when out in the field. It also removes the dangers of viruses being imported because, with no local disk, it is impossible to download and store any information or games. And, with all documents automatically stored centrally, organisations can avoid the endemic problem of data loss caused by individuals opting to save their data locally, despite clear corporate policies to the contrary.

UC also supports the adoption of cross departmental teams using video conferencing to remove the need to travel to meetings – by road, rail or air. By reducing overall employee travel time, organisations can not only drive down the level of carbon emissions but also boost productivity and support strategies for improving employee work/life balance.

There is growing pressure on organisations to meet their environmental responsibilities – and increasing signs that government and EU legislation will demand significant change and a quantifiable reduction in CO2 emissions. But sustainable business is about more than just reducing power consumption and scaling down the IT infrastructure. It is about supporting the employee to drive down emissions through flexible and remote working, for example, and enabling collaboration and conferencing to reduce the need for travel.

Critically, with the right approach, sustainable business is not just about meeting targets and being seen to be green but actually adopting efficient, well managed processes that deliver quantifiable benefit to the bottom line.

Chris de Silva is the Managing Director of integrator NEC Philips Unified Solutions and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.uk. 

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