Centralized PC power managers not created equal

Autonomic, BigFix, and Symantec Altiris solutions offer a wealth of potential power savings, but also differences in policy depth, granularity, and ease

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Notably, a new type of power strip/UPS from APC can eliminate much of this wasted power. The P7GT power strip and the BE750G Back-UPS model both power off up to three peripherals when the attached computer shuts down or goes into hibernate mode. This means that the power supplies for the peripherals are completely powered off, rather than using standby power or full power when the computer is shut off.

Windows XP, Vista, and Windows 7 offer three degrees of power saving: sleep (called standby in XP), hibernate, and shut down. Sleep saves system state to RAM in order to resume very quickly, while hibernate saves state to disk, taking longer to resume but allowing even RAM to be powered down. Standby mode in XP is essentially the same as sleep mode in Vista and Windows 7, except that standby saves system state only in RAM whereas Vista and Windows 7 also save it to disk as a safety measure.

Rather than focusing on the technical differences of these modes, it is useful to examine the recovery times to full operational. Booting from shutdown takes the longest, up to several minutes depending on the system, how many drivers load, how long it's been since a clean install, and other factors. Restoring from hibernate is generally quicker, and restoring from sleep is quickest of all, generally requiring only a few seconds.

Particularly during the day, shutting down a PC is not economical. If you power down a user's PC while he or she is at lunch, the 3 cents of electricity you save will be wiped out by the five minutes the user wastes waiting for the PC to boot up.

Go, go power savers
All three software products in my test help admins locate PCs that aren't using power management; moreover, they all enable policy-based enforcement of power-saving settings by remotely deploying agents to each PC on the network. Additionally, they offer considerably more flexibility than trying to use Group Policy in Active Directory, plus they deliver a wealth of other features unrelated to power management -- although at additional cost.

The offerings aren't all created equal, however. Autonomic delivers the easiest and most granular power policy management, but the Autonomic management platform supports only Windows clients. BigFix approaches Autonomic in power management features, while being able to manage a very wide array of client and server platforms. Symantec boasts the broadest overall management platform, integrating many different products into a single management console and providing a limited but free power management capability along with the rest of the platform.

Autonomic Software ANSA Platinum Suite
In my tests, I prefer to install products myself to ensure that my experience is the same as a customer's. For my test of Autonomic ANSA Platinum Suite, the company gave me a Lenovo server with the software pre-installed on Windows Server 2003. I allowed this on the assurance that Autonomic is just as accommodating to all its customers.

A small company, Autonomic seems very, very responsive to customer requests. Based on comments I made during the process of getting the system integrated into my test bed, Autonomic made changes in the code, adding features I'd suggested in passing, and sent me an updated version within a week. Neither BigFix nor Symantec are likely to be this responsive, especially to smaller customers.

Power management platforms compared

 Autonomic ANSA Platinum SuiteBigFix Enterprise Suite 7.2Symantec Altiris Client Management Suite 7.0.354
CostAutonomic Software takes the rebate received from the power company for implementing PC power management or 25 percent of the savings that result. Savings is determined by using third-party software to track power usage before and after installation, using a large sample of systems for 14 days, quarterly if requested.$7 per managed systemPower management is a free addition to the Altiris Client Management Suite, which costs $95 per managed system.
PlatformsRuns on Windows Server 2003 with a SQL Server database. Agents for Windows clients only.Runs on Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 with a SQL Server database. Agents for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and other clients.Runs on Windows Server 2003 or Windows Server 2008 with a SQL Server database. Agents for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and other clients.
Pros and Cons+Effectively no cost. +Easy to install, use, and verify power savings. +Flexible power management policies that go beyond Windows control panel options. +Allows waking to apply updates. -Supports only Windows clients.+Easy to install and monitor power savings. +Flexible power management policies that go beyond Windows control panel options. +Allows waking to apply updates. +Support for other operating systems than Windows. -Finding the settings you need can be difficult.+Power management policies are easy to configure. +Allows waking to apply updates. +Support for other operating systems than Windows. -Power management policies are limited to what's available in the Windows control panel. -Initial setup is more difficult than the other systems.
Bottom LineAutonomic Software provides an excellent power management product that won’t cost anything to install, because pricing is a portion of the power savings. The flexible but easy-to-use policy engine allows settings for different times of day and days of the week, and flexibility far beyond what’s available in the Windows control panel. The suite offers a plethora of other management functions, some of which are included free with the power management piece.BigFix offers a nice management platform with support for a wide range of server and client operating systems and a flexible but somewhat cumbersome policy engine. Power management settings are located in several different places, so getting what you want requires some exploration and experimentation.The Altiris management platform isn’t a product you’d buy solely to manage power; it’s a full-featured PC management platform that includes power management. Considered solely as a power management system, it falls short of the others in this test. But if you’re already using Altiris or don’t have a PC management platform, it’s a good choice.

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