Energy Savings and Usability of Zero-Client Computing in Office Settings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study provides a detailed comparison of the power consumption, usability, and applicability of virtual machines (VMs) - accessed through zero-client devices - and traditional laptop computers in office settings. The study analyzed high-level plug loads across two office spaces, one using traditional laptops, the other using zero clients. In addition, the individual power consumption of four workstations was monitored and compared. Each workstation user switched between using a laptop or zero client for one week and then using the alternate system the second week. Results of the high-level and workstation analysis show that average workstation plug loads are lower for occupants using zero clients. However, this does not include power consumed by the data center managing VMs. This study calculates the affiliated data center power draw of VMs and shows that server-related loads push total zero-client computing energy higher than that of traditional laptops. Finally, a questionnaire was administered to building occupants to determine the appropriateness of zero-client computing for various user groups, with the results indicating that VMs are most appropriate for more basic software functions. The findings of this study suggest that advances in server technology can help improve both the overall efficiency and the usability of zero-client computing.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)115-132
Number of pages18
JournalIntelligent Buildings International
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2018

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-68028


  • commercial buildings
  • computing system energy
  • data center energy
  • miscellaneous electric loads
  • plug loads
  • virtual machines
  • zero-client computing


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