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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Altiris gives you six power schemes -- always on, home/office disk, max battery, minimal power, portable/laptop, and presentation -- to apply to different users and groups, defined either in Active Directory or through the product itself. Each scheme is pre-configured with time of inactivity settings for turning off the monitor, turning off the hard disk, and putting the system into sleep and hibernation modes.

Unlike in Autonomic and BigFix, the policies don't go beyond pulling the levers in the Windows power management control panel. Nor do you get the flexibility in applying these policies that Autonomic and BigFix provide.

Each scheme can be modified -- but once a scheme is modified, the new version applies to all systems that subscribe to that scheme. Further, you can't create new schemes, like something halfway between max battery and home/office; you have six and only six schemes to work with. This is much less flexible than the other two products, which let you define any number of schemes or policies for different users, as well as giving the option of password-protecting the system after it's brought out of hibernation.

Altiris does offer a Wake On LAN setting, which will let you wake systems at night, apply patches, then put them back to sleep. It doesn't provide a way to save files before turning a system off.

Most organizations wouldn't deploy Symantec's Altiris framework just for the power management piece. It offers a host of other features, including PC management functions for controlling desktop settings, installing software, taking inventory of software and hardware installed on the PC, locking down a system to keep the user from changing settings or adding unauthorized software, and many more. The complete feature list of the Altiris management framework is quite extensive. Organizations that already use the framework can deploy the power management capability at no additional cost.

All three suites will help admins locate PCs that are wasting power and configure them to hibernate or shut down as needed, then start up before users arrive in the morning. Each offers similar functionality in creating and applying power management policies. Autonomic is the most flexible, and it promises -- literally -- to pay for itself. BigFix provides an uncomplicated licensing model, support for a variety of platforms, and a highly capable product. Symantec's offering is a mature, enterprise-class platform with more management features beyond power management than either BigFix or Autonomic, though at a much higher price per seat.

Altiris' power settings can be updated multiple times per day, so that systems go into hibernation more quickly after hours.
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