County thins energy bills

Contra Costa County in California could save more than $224,000 a year in electricity costs by using thin appliances rather than personal computers.

The thin-client appliances tap central servers running Microsoft Corp. Windows applications and display the applications on a desktop monitor. They use energy-efficient processors and have no internal moving parts such as fans or disk drives, enabling the devices to use only seven to 10 watts of electricity per hour. Personal computers can use as much as 200 watts per hour.

Wyse Technology estimates that the thin-client appliances save the county an average of 90 watts per hour per appliance. And with local energy costs continuing to rise, county officials say savings could top $224,000 per year.

Steve Steinbrecher, the county's chief information officer, said the energy savings from the thin clients is an added bonus from a product county officials wanted to buy anyway.

"In 1996, we were looking around during the design phase of what was to become our county [enterprise resource planning] system," Steinbrecher said, "and I basically said I didn't want people screwing around at their desktops — downloading things they shouldn't, saving files on to their hard drives that didn't need to be there."

Maintenance costs have dropped 38 percent in four years because there are fewer hard drives.

Steinbrecher said Costa County (www.co.contra-costa.ca.us) was the first California county to embrace thin-client technology on a broad scale, having set up thin-client applications for more than 1,500 employees. Steinbrecher plans to introduce more thin-appliance products to replace older existing PCs as they break.

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