In an era where sustainability is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, it’s hard to condone the fast technological developments that leave systems outdated and large pieces of hardware ready for the rubbish bin. Even five-year-old computers struggle to meet the requirements of the latest operating systems, and in many cases it’s more expensive to upgrade processor and RAM than to buy a new laptop. Of course, technical developments also reach waste management companies, who are more and more capable of safely disposing of the computer parts that contain harmful materials. Before they are destroyed, many computers find a second life with less-demanding users. However, an even better solution originates directly from these fast developments: old computers can be used as thin clients in a Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (vdi).
Many old computers are already being reused in places where there are no means available for the latest systems, from care homes to schools in developing countries. Relatively simple applications, such as word-processing programmes and an internet browser, usually suffice here, and do not require quad-core processors. Although this current setup might suffice for these basic computing needs, implementing VDI would help to form a system in which these same old computers act as if they are state-of-the-art supermachines.
VDI is a computing model in which all relevant software programs (including the operating system) are installed on and run from a server, accessible by the user through a “thin client”, which is any type of computer that can connect to the server. Because all processes are centrally run, the features of the thin client are irrelevant. It can be a smartphone, a tablet, or a hopelessly out-dated desktop computer, and many clients can use the server at the same time.
This means an improvement in flexibility and mobility – you can access all files on your home computer from your smartphone on holiday, and you can use software licensed by your employer on your tablet from your living room. What it also means is that users no longer have to depend on the capacities of their computers. Using VDI would greatly benefit, for example, schools, libraries, and community centres. These are all organisations that struggle under the current financial climate, while having the responsibility to provide users with access to information and education. They need only one good computer to set up as a server, and can then safely rely on second-hand computers without suffering from incompatible software or old, slow processors. Local people can use these public spaces to connect their own outdated laptop or smartphone to the server, using the central computer’s processing power while keeping their private files on their own systems.
By lowering the demand for new computers, while increasing the accessibility of their capacities, technical developments can reach more people in a more sustainable way. Of course, no system is perfect, and VDI has its limitations. Its capabilities depend on the network connection, and storing all information on one computer increases security risks. To provide a purpose for old computers, however, VDI is not only environmentally, but also financially, sustainable.