Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

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Here's what one university library found when they compared the hardware and software costs.
Software Cost Comparison
  • Windows Licenses: Windows $2,500 (est.); Symantec Ghost $1,700 (+ $525/annum); Symantec Antivirus $1,544.25 (+ $525/annum)

  • Linux: per server annual subscription is $50 beginning in 2003.

Table 2. Software Purchasing Cycle Cost Comparison Over 15 Years

Year3-Year6-Year10-Year
1995$5,744.255,744.2579.99
19961,0501,050-
19971,0501,050-
19983,5501,050-
19991,0501,05079.99
20001,0501,050-
20013,5503,550-
20021,0501,050-
20031,0501,050100
20043,5501,050-
20051,0501,050-
20061,0501,050-
20073,5503,550100
20081,0501,050-
20091,0501,050-
Total:$30,444.2525,444.25359.98
Administrative Time Comparison

Based on our experiences over the last eight years hosting both PC and X terminal labs, we estimate that we would hire and retain roughly the same amount of administrative and technical staff to service this number of systems regardless of whether they are Windows or Linux-based.

During 2003 and 2004 so far, however, we have seen a dramatic rise in the amount of time spent patching Windows systems and removing ad-ware, spyware and viruses from unpatched systems and re-imaging OS images. This rise is time spent on these tasks may increase dramatically our administrative costs going forward.

As far as installation and maintenance, for Windows PCs, the weekly manual processes involve cleaning old data off of primary ghosting systems, building three updated workstation ghost images with Windows updates, A/V updates and ad-aware updates. Then there is an automated push of ghost images to the workstations. The total time spent on this is three hours two times a week.

For Linux X terminals, no regular ghosting or updating of images is required. Primary work involves fixing bad hardware when installing antiquated systems and setting up each system as an X workstation. This all takes two hours per newly installed workstation. A new client application host installation requires 16-20 hours to set up and to complete the migration of applications.

Conclusion

Excluding administrative costs, the 15-year cost of 25 Linux systems in a lab environment is estimated to be $41,359 versus a 15-year cost of $100,000 to $155,000 for Windows PCs serving the same function. Although these estimates are based on rough cost estimates, the overall cost of hardware and software deployment, coupled with the shorter overall time spent on administrative tasks, yields significant cost savings over long-term deployment cycles in our work environment.

Salvador Peralta is the systems administrator for the Mark O. Hatfield Library at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.

______________________

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This article is right in

Anonymous's picture

This article is right in line with the reality when it comes to looking at costs of Windows vs. Linux. Clearly you can see the cost savings of Linux, and this article points out the reason why. I hope to see more articles like this, as people need to be educated on the value of Linux and how it can benefit individuals as well as businesses. I have gone into further depth in my own writing, on why this can be true:

http://members.apex-internet.com/sa/windowslinux

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

I have recently completed conversion of WinPC's to X Term environment for several mortgage companies (3 seperate companies - total of 240 nodes in all). I must say I was a bit nervous at first but I am sure glad I made the switch. No more crashes. No more virus issues. I have a life again. Clients very happy. Do what you want. Say what you want. 'Hooked on Linux. Worked for me.' To my fellow MCSE's, better get certs on this. You'll be missing some big ops.

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

X-terminals are nice if you never have to use portables. If people in a company need portables because they visit customers, work from home/remote office ..., X-terminal based solutions are never competitive in price, flexibility and ease of use.

Having a mixed environment of PC and X-terminals is a nightmare from the operational point of view; the IT department has to be trained and has to solve issues for both systems, which is a burden. We've tried it out and switched backed to PC-only systems

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison. Check out St

Anonymous's picture

Granted, laptop don't fit into the thin client model.
However this is getting addressed the Stateless Linux project which
combine the best of both worlds.
It allow thin clients and with downloaded shadow images, laptops.

Dom

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

What type of portables do you mean?
i'm using an old Tecra 8000/192MB RAM/20GB with low-cost RTL8180L WLAN, Linux 2.4, KDE 3.2. There's no problem accessing the Local AP and connecting to any X-Server.
BTW.: Installing Linux the first time on a up-to-date notebook is a nightmare. Using windows is an adventure every day, every time.

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

mistake. you should switch your portables to debian like we did. okay, not asap, started slowly - man by man. first rh, now everyone uses debian. once we started to dump redhat with debian, well over half of the staff switched home machines to debian as well. now I use linux desktop about 8 years.
I alway wonder why people care about m$.
note: we are software developers. closed source, commercial. on linux, for linux. (no, we do not even use (link) gnu libc in our programs).

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

Excellent case study...how can we contact Salvador to get more info for a similar project?

Rahul Chopra

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

You can email me. speralta [at] progressivetrail.org

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

The cost for new Client Hardware should be in the 15 years comparison. But even with this added cost the X-terminal approach will be still cheaper then the MS-Windows deal.
Some years ago the X-terminal market was dead. Now people are using PC hardware as X-terminal base. This idea is a big success. The pure X-terminals of old were to expensive because of low volume. The PC hardware is high volume and the X-terminal solution is again competive.
And you can have a silent workstation again - if you use a USB-stick in your PC X-terminal as harddrive replacement. This should be nice for a library.

use cluster

Anonymous's picture

Hm, instead of buying dedicated twin cpu machine as x server, may be use can cluster those old pc together and serve the same purpose? Sure this will further drive down the cost :-)

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

This was exactly what my former university (about 2 years ago) did. They had the "programming" lab setup using networked clients, where your experience was whatever the server was. The first year there, they were still running an old server in the backend, and it was frightfully slow whenever the whole class was logged in.

The following year, they had upgraded that single machine to a shiny new dual pentium. Voila, instant performance, no change of functionality or clients. From our point of view, the hardware hadn't changed, but suddenly the screens were fast, and there were more applications.

Now, the 'word processing labs' on the other hand were also upgraded to nice shiny new pentium machines. Didn't take long for us to (a: install every p2p client known to man, b: circumvent administrative access to install said software, c: ensure that these machines were left in a virtually unusable condition every other day). Believe it or not, some students get a kick out of doing that. Makes the art students life hell ;-), because I can just to type up my report on OpenOffice in the programming lab

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

roflmao!

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

Part of my job is to provide helpdesk support for a School District that runs both Windows and Linux Terminal Servers. There are approxamatly 80 schools. We have more linux Thin Client stations that we have windows stations. It is not that Linux is not getting used, on the contrary it is being used just as much or even more than the Windows workstations.

However I spend more helpdesk time providing support for the Windows workstations than support for the Linux Thin Clients.

The Linux Thin clients are allot easier keeping up-to-date. I update the software on the Terminal Server and all thin clients instantly get the new software. I just run the Debian "aptitude" program and I can easily install/upgrade/remove software from a lab of 30-50 computers.

We purchase re-cycled $40 "Thin Clients". However our thin clients are getting fatter (eg P450) so we developed some sofware to do load balancing between the server and the client based on the client's CPU speed and RAM.

We do spend a bit more money on our Servers and Switches.

Our thin clients have a huge selection of free educational and business software. Just check out: http://www.debian.org/distrib/packages

I have heard many arguments regarding open-source vs closed-source ... But so far students seem to prefer having a wealth of free Linux software over a limited locked down windows station with few and expensive software. Teachers like Linux solutions because there are less chrashes, no viruses, no spyware, no kids snooping where they shouldn't be etc.

Linux to me represents:
- Less Licences
- Less Helpdesk Calls
- Easier To Keep Up-To-Date
- Easier To Remotely Administer
- More Controll
- More Flexibility
- More Software
- More Satisfied End Users

I manage Windows and Linux and Linux is easier to Manage.
Nothing to argue about in our School District.

----
Windows XP SP2 - Just trying to catch up to what Linux has had for a long long time... (Firewall, Automatic Updates, and Virus Protection).

----
"Dear Microsoft, please include Automatic Updates to ALL my software on my computer through windowsupdate.com. Don't just upgrade the operating system. Please see Debian Linux for an example. Thanks"

Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

Anonymous's picture

I think a better comparsion should be made between the Windows Terminal Server and X Terminals.

Windows Terminal Server & X Terminals

Anonymous's picture

Ok,

  • less licenses
  • less licenses to track
  • no audit costs
  • no audit out-of-compliance (pirate! thief!) costs
  • no per-seat costs
  • lower overall costs
  • FOSS-hackable, not dependent on vendor for bug/security updates
  • more flexibility
  • more satisfied comptrollers
  • more satisfied IT department
  • more satisfied parents
  • more satisfied taxpayers
  • school funding spent on students instead of Gates & Butterball's 959 legalization efforts
  • You were right! A better comparison between your examples!

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    Nice article, we actually run our entire manufacturing operation on
    linux desktops using remote x and recycled hardware. It is our experience and we can back this up with proof is that we spend less than a hour per month in maintenance excluding hardware issues. We recently started just buying neoware boxes for the client end as they are cheap and it is totally plug and play. If we wish to recycle a pc we use a hacked slack cdrom to boot x and straight to the server, this cut our deployment time of recycled hardware from a hour to seconds. I am absolutely shure I can turn up a 200 node existing network in a single day that is including loading and configuring the servers.

    Just turn on xdmp on a redhat cluster and throw cd's in the client drives, done deal!

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    Good article.

    Salvador, how is your mom?
    Say hi to her and the 2 dogs.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    Additionally, as the plan is now described, could not have been devised at the beginning of its intended project due to many of its critical pieces not existing.
    I'm not sure which pieces you suggest were not available. A cursory view of the author's work shows that the project started with FVWM as the window manager, and Netscape as the browser. That they have migrated to newer WM and platform is no reason to discount the cost-benefits of a project that now appears to be nearly 10-years old for the sort of public workstations described in the article.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    From my experience in with PC's over the past twenty or so years, it seems that projections based on using primary hardware beyond three to five years have proved to be futile.
    Sure, you can have something that runs. But what service is it providing to its user base. Or, on the other hand, what services is it not providing to its user base. If the intent is a cheap, reliable, and supportable system that can access a centralized base if information, telnet access from text only terminals is the way to go. If, instead, the goal is to provide a full featured modern internet experience, new hardware and fresh, easily replaceable, hard drives will be in order.
    For most organizations, the proposed solution would not fit the bill. Additionally, as the plan is now described, could not have been devised at the beginning of its intended project due to many of its critical pieces not existing. This practice of redesigning and managing obsolesce can be administratively intensive and frequently leads to unsupportable pet networks.
    As a fifteen year cost analysis, I think that this information is misleading at best. It may accurately represent the projected costs of maintaining this installation for the next five years, but it does not reflect a transferable model that can meet a typical organization

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    "telnet access from text only terminals"

    http://www.starfall.com/

    sweet! roflmao

    Anonymous's picture

    sweet! roflmao

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    "If the intent is a cheap, reliable, and supportable system that can access a centralized base if information, telnet access from text only terminals is the way to go. If, instead, the goal is to provide a full featured modern internet experience, new hardware and fresh, easily replaceable, hard drives will be in order. "

    Duh, you DORK, it is fully integrated GUI environment. It's not a dumb terminal like you are thinking. What an idot?

    A wise man once said " It is better to be thought a fool. Than to open ones mouth and PROOVE it!!!"

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: +

    Anonymous's picture

    Original poster, we're all here to learn so please share with us your wisdom.
    What specifically would you recommend?

    Regards,
    JeffC

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    Sure, you can have something that runs. But what service is it providing to its user base.

    In a setup like this the service provided by the clients is totally independant of the client hardware. The clients do no processing and only send key clicks mouse movements and get screen updates from the central server. Thus any old piece of junk client will perform as well as any other high end client. I use a similar system with 24 terminals and they have neither hard disks nor floppies installed as both are totally unnecessary.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    To be fair (I have a couple of machines running as X-terminals using LTSP) some old junk is a bit too old to be much use. It mostly comes down to the video card, which needs to manage enough resolution and colours to run a vaguely modern desktop. The first random box I tried to use only had 256K of video ram (640x480 in 256 colours or 800x600 in 16), which is no use these days. You need 800x600x16bpp as a minimum now (2MB RAM) and preferably a lot more. And you do need a decent server to run modern desktops for more than a couple of boxes. BUt bearing those caveats in mind I'd agree that the system is excellent, and very reliable and easy to maintain, especially if the server is a debian box

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    Actually, I agree in part. By using this setup with a fast network link, the X-term setup would indeed "deprive" you of several things:

    --Aging and slow browser like IE.
    --Worry about individuals defeating the Windows insecurity system to install potentially malicious programs.
    --Relatively frequent downtime while various patches, patches of patches, and updates are applied while praying they have not broken some essential service.

    Personally, I am quite happy to "suffer' this kind of deprivation.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    I don't think you understand the concept here, when you say that the users of X terminals will be deprived of a rich internet experience. The users will have the same experience as if they were to have their own full system. I have used this setup quite often to save time and money.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    You obviously have been to exposed only to the Windows model. This setup sounds exactly like what the organization needs and an X server-client model its a great solution. Not every organization has to be a slave to the M$ hardware cycle.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    ...the goal is to provide a full featured modern internet experience...
    That is exactly what this setup is capable of providing. It can provide whatever service the server is capable of. The server needs to have greater resources than individual stand alone workstations would have to have, but the experience will not be limited by the hardware used for the terminals.

    Re: Windows PCs vs. X Terminals: A Cost Comparison

    Anonymous's picture

    From my experience in with PC's over the past twenty or so years, it seems that projections based on using primary hardware beyond three to five years have proved to be futile.

    Perhaps that's because you've never been exposed to the networked X model. So long as the PC is only being used to render graphics to a display, with the applications powered by a centralized host system on a fast network, there is no reason why a given PC can't be adequate for 10 years or longer. As I understand it, these folks don't even need to muck about with hard drives.

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