The green IT stars of 2010

InfoWorld's 2010 Green 15 Awards: Green-tech projects coupled with innovation and collaboration yield bountiful rewards

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Standard Bank enlists thin clients to avoid costly AC upgrade
The company's VDI infrastructure leads to less heat, lower bills, and easier end-user support

Standard Bank was set to relocate to a new BREEAM Excellent-rated headquarters in London in 2009 but faced a curious dilemma: The new building's air conditioning system wasn't designed to accommodate the number of employees moving into the space. Scrapping and replacing the AC system was certainly an option, but company execs felt that would violate the spirit of selecting a green building in the first place. Enter Standard Bank IT architects Joel King and Paul Cotgrove, who came up with a clever, IT-oriented approach to beating the office heat: replacing PCs with low-power virtual clients.

The bank's VDI infrastructure combines VMware View and around 700 Wyse V10L virtual clients. Two monitors are connected to each client to provide users with the necessary work environment. On the server side, in addition to the VMware View VDI platform, Standard Bank uses VMware ThinApp software to virtualize applications, including specialized, business-critical, graphically intensive apps such as SunGard Front Arena and Bloomberg. The server virtualization infrastructure is VMware VI3 with HDS USPV storage.

The VDI solution certainly nipped the heating problem in the bud, saving the bank more than $380,000 (250,000 British pounds) on a new AC system. As an added benefit, the company saw energy consumption drop by 312,539 kWH per year, which translated to $50,000 in savings. Those savings stem from the fact that the bank's PCs had consumed 150 watts each while the thin clients ran at about 15 watts per unit. "The data center does experience some increase in demand, but overall, our savings are far more than we thought. It's also easier to manage and control energy consumption at the data center. Overall, I think we have experienced a 30 to 40 percent savings," said King.

Environmental benefits aside, the bank reports that the new computing infrastructure is easier to manage and maintain. "Initially, the cost of provisioning a user with a thin client is [only] a little bit better than purchasing a PC. But in the long run, the thin client support is faster, cheaper, and easier to resolve. If there is a problem with a machine, typically a user simply has to log off and then they are fine," King said.

Additionally, equipping a user with a new system is a snap. "With PCs, it would take anywhere from a half a day to a full day to download the image onto the PC, install all user-specific applications, take that to the user, and configure it specifically for them. With VDI, all of that goes away. We can pretty much just add a user to the Active Directory, and it's as simple as that," said King.

Also important: End-users, who were initially resistant to giving up their PCs for thin clients, have warmed up to them considerably, in part because they make working remotely a lot easier. "Users log in and it's the same experience and full functionality as if they were in the bank. In the past, users had legacy hardware, so the quality of remote access wasn't as good," said King. "Overall, there was some resistance to begin with, but once people understood the thin clients, they were happy. We even had people asking us to move them to thin clients before their scheduled move."

Riding the sustainability wave that came with the move into the new green building, Standard Bank has embraced other IT projects to cut waste and shrink its carbon footprint. For example, the company reduced its printer count from 130 machines to just 30, and users now have to swipe a card at a printer in order for the job to process. "We've reduced paper waste, because a lot of times people would print, then forget about it," King said. "Now we're looking at power monitoring on all servers and how we can reduce our server consumption with more efficient hardware or server consolidation. Overall, there is a big drive around here, looking at everything to see how we can reduce our carbon footprint."

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