A True Test of HP's Green Commitment

A True Test of HP's Green Commitment

Perhaps HP is going to lead the shift towards thin client computing after all.

Barely 72 hours after I posted suggesting HP's claims that it was hugely committed to promoting green, energy efficient thin client computing looked a bit over-blown the company has gone and splashed out $214m to acquire thin client vendor Neoware. Perhaps the HP exec I had been talking to knew something I didn't.

Either way the deal represents a major addition to HP's growing portfolio of green products. Thin clients have no moving parts and work by simply providing users with a connection to applications hosted on a server -- as such they can use around 90 percent less energy than traditional desktop PCs, require far fewer resources during the production process and pose less of an eWaste problem.

It is no exaggeration to claim that when combined with a well managed datacentre to host end user applications thin clients are greener in every way when compared with traditional PCs.

Through the acquisition of Neoware HP now has a fairly complete thin client portfolio, combining Neoware's Linux-based thin client solutions and software with HP's Microsoft Windows XPe and Windows CE alternatives, as well as its virtualized client solutions, such as blade PCs, blade workstations, virtual desktop.

But what will be interesting to see is how HP balances its now reinforced thin client business with its existing desk top division.

The company was quick to announce that Neoware will be integrated into its Business Desktop Unit and insisted that thin clients represent an important "component" in an overall computing strategy, the implication being that it is an overall strategy that still very much includes PCs.

But the big question for customers, green businesses -- and not least HP -- is how big a component do thin clients represent?

Pure play thin client vendors have long maintained that the chunk of the PC market that they could eat in to is far, far larger than the PC vendors ever let on. They argue that confining thin clients to their traditional contact centre stronghold is short-sighted and that there are compelling cost, security, maintenance and environmental reasons for having virtually every knowledge worker -- and that's most of us these days - using thin clients.

It will be a huge test of HP's new green credentials to see if it continues with Neoware's aggressive evangelizing of thin client technology.

Will HP now tell all its major corporate accounts which are unnecessarily running over weight fat clients that the next time they want to refresh their PCs they should instead move to thin clients, as Neoware would surely have done, or will thin clients be forced to play second fiddle to the much larger desktop business?

If it goes with the former option and eulogises the benefits of thin clients regardless of the in-roads the technology may make into its PC business then we might just be seeing a major step in an industry-wide shift towards thin client computing that would almost certainly spark further consolidation in the market and may even mark the beginning of the end for increasingly environmentally unsustainable desktop PCs.

Alternatively, if it goes with the later option, ignores the growing maturity of software-as-a-service applications and continues to push PCs as the default solution for firms' desktop computing requirements then we will all know that HP is not as serious about the environment as it says it is.

James Murray is the management editor of ITWeek, and runs the BusinessGreen blog.