Moving sustainable computing up the educational agenda

As a school governor, parent (and taxpayer), I am amazed to hear that teaching staff are now suggesting that air conditioning units need to be installed into school classrooms to help reduce the heat being produced by desktop personal computers. Typically each PC consumes around 150-250 watts of power. Multiply that by 15 PCs in a classroom (or even 30 units) and combined they produce staggering amounts of heat.

In addition to the heat, each of the PCs will be fitted with an internal fan to help cool the microprocessor. Again, taking the combined noise output from 15 PCs, it can be very difficult for a teacher to be heard at the back of the classroom when all the PCs are switched on.

Incredibly, for most primary and secondary school educational purposes the processing capability and complexity of the software used, e.g. office suite applications, is far in excess of the day-to-day learning requirements.

At the other end of the educational spectrum, immediately before joining Sun I worked for a Business School that is part of the University of London. One Monday morning we all came into work to find that a number of the PCs in the staff and academic offices had been stolen over the weekend. Needless to say, the thieves had selected the more up-to-date PCs (including my own) plus the Apple computers used by the Web Office. Apart from the financial loss to the university, the theft had two consequences.

Firstly, the department was unable to work properly for three days while we waited for the local police to fingerprint the offices and for the School to replace the PCs. Secondly, and more importantly, with the theft critical information left the building including student databases and several academic papers that were being prepared for publication. In the age of the Internet and network computing, it turned out that very few people had backed up their files onto the network.

For any educational institution, thin client computing has to be the way ahead. How long can the outdated PC model be sustained? It does however represent a good new business opportunity for air conditioning firms.

Comments:

The "PC Model" is not outdated. Current PC design is. However, thin clients are not the solution and no amount of blogging is going to change that. Even if you pay the taxes :-)

Posted by Andy Grove on November 07, 2006 at 04:35 AM GMT #

Maybe you're right - blogging may not change attitudes. What is changing them are the needs for simplicity, reliability, cost effectiveness of acquisition and management, avoidance of refresh costs and flexibility to deliver different operating and application platforms. The desire for environmentally sensitive devices (no noise, no heat, low power, low manufacturing impact) is also growing in importance. With the need to deploy larger numbers of desktops to increase desktop per student ratios in schools, then these issues are compounded, and no wonder why the education market is buying thin client solutions in growing numbers. Not the answer ? We have a large number of education customers around the world who would absolutely disagree. Is it the answer for every possible use case - maybe not, but for the mainstream it is increasingly proving to be so. Perhaps if PCs were redesigned to deliver the above, they'd look like, well, thin clients !

Posted by Simon Schouten on November 07, 2006 at 11:36 AM GMT #

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