When PCs don't snooze, you lose

Companies are waking up to the fact that powering down systems after hours can reap significant cost and energy savings.

Companies are waking up to the fact that powering down systems after hours can reap significant cost and energy savings

One of the more frustrating aspects of launching a new technology project at an organization, such as a new document management system or upgraded CRM software, is that the return on investment can be downright difficult to measure in clear, obvious monetary figures.

Therein lies the advantage of certain green projects: Beyond the environmental benefits, the ROI can be so immediate and evident, your CFO might just slap his or her forehead for not doing it sooner.

PC and monitor power management falls under that easy-to-measure, cost-saving, carbon-reducing, CFO-self-masochism-inducing category. The bottom line is, lots of organizations leave their PCs and monitors humming nights and weekends when no one is around to use them. Powering down those systems can result in as much as $45 in energy savings per PC and $30 per monitor, per year, according to Energy Star.

Just chew on that for a moment. That's $75 a year, times the number of PCs and monitors at your organization. Or you can take the more conservative figure of $25. Whatever the case, a company with 5,000 systems is looking at adding around $125,000 to the happy side of the accounting ledger at the end of the year, and for very minimal effort on IT's part.

Environmentally speaking, a machine left on all the time results in an extra half-ton of CO2 emissions per year, according to California's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Thus, the ecobenefits are evident as well.

Ripe for the plucking

"What we're solving here is really low-hanging fruit with results that are significantly larger than all the datacenter work that's going on out there," says Sumir Karayi, the CEO at 1E, which is among a host of vendors offering tools aimed at helping network admins get a handle on desktop waste. "The simple reasons for that is just numbers: the number of PCs there are compared to servers. It's at least a 10-to-1 ratio in the corporate space. If you start switching off a percentage of them, even just 30 percent, then the sort of savings you'll see are massive."

InfoWorld: When PCs don't snooze, you lose
1E's Patch Management Pack includes NightWatchman, which admins can use to tailor policies for automatically powering down systems across the network when they're not in use.

Also part of 1E's package is SMSWakeUp, which includes WOL (Wake-On-LAN) technology to rouse systems from slumber when they need to be patched. Admins also can set systems to boot at specific times, meaning end-users will be able to sit down at their desks and start working when they arrive. Moreover, 1E's system is designed to save users' work before shutting down their systems, as well not to shut down if a system is running predetermined applications.

Among 1E's customers is Vision Service Plan (VSP), a supplier of eye care benefits in the United States with more than 2,300 PCs. According to 1E, VSP is using the Patch Management Pack to power down 85 percent of its workstations at night, reaping anticipated savings of $63 per PC per year. That's around $145,000 per annum -- plus the company also derives benefit of far more successful patch jobs.

User needs may vary

Common among these power management solutions are configurable policies, which admins can tailor for particular groups, or even individuals, to reflect their respective hours and needs. Policies also might be adjusted to ensure that a system won't take a snooze if specific processes are running in the background.

Implementing power management without disrupting users is key, which is, in part, where the flexible policies come in handy. Karayi and Bruce Twito, CTO and vice president of product development at Verdiem, both suggest that admins not get too rigid with policies, so as not to overly irritate users. For example, overly ambitious policies might result in the monitor or system powering down every 10 minutes while a user is trying to read an article or when a stats application is running a complex process.

"If people are very IT savvy, they're going to object to not letting them use their machines as fast as they want to," says Karayi. "You can still save a massive amount of power. There's around 9.5 hours in a workday. You still have the 14 hours to play with where machine can be off."

On the other hand, you might want to create stricter policies for the systems that rarely see use, notes Rob Meinhardt, CEO of KACE, which offers KBOX, essentially a plug-and-play appliance which offers, among other features, power management, configuration management and WOL capabilities. "At any given office, you could have literally hundred, thousands of machines in the building. And inevitably, there are machines on the periphery of use that aren't employed. You might have a QA lab where maybe 50 percent of the machines aren't in use. You can power them down."

Or, thanks reporting features, you may just find that some systems simply aren't getting enough use to justify having them around at all.

See your savings

Reporting features are critical to the success of these types of solutions, according to the reps I spoke with. Admins can use them to see how effective their policies are, what savings they're reaping, and where there might be opportunity or need for tweaks. "There's no point in saving power if you can't show how much power you're saving -- and showing how much compliance there is," says Karayi.

InfoWorld: When PCs don't snooze, you lose
Verdiem, which offers a power management product called Surveyor, uses the reporting features at the beginning of the implementation process to help companies gauge just what kind of savings they might reap. "We go into their organizations and install the client on a smattering of machines, and we use it to collect information about how efficient their power management policies actually are. Given user behavior and their policies, we see how much opportunity there is to save energy, and what the ROI would be," says Twito.

One of Verdiem's customers is the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) in Washington state. It has 23,500 students, 48 schools, and more than 11,000 PCs. LWSD has reaped more than $200,000 in savings per year through power management.

The solution garnered praise from the LWSD techies. "Surveyor lets us easily schedule when to leave the PCs on to automate IT tasks, while saving energy and money when no IT work is needed. And to date, use of Surveyor has not resulted in a single help desk call, which is refreshingly uncommon when new software is installed," says Bob Siemers, senior network engineer for the district.

The value proposition of desktop power management is indeed quite evident, and the vendors are finding that it's no longer just the folks in the operations and facilities department -- those who pay the electric bills -- that are asking about them. Now that green is the black among IT companies, technology departments are keen on reducing energy consumption. "Our typical point of contact has been facilities manager because they're in control of the power bill. But in the last six months, IT management is beginning to contact us. They're the primary source of incoming leads now."

In addition to the companies mentioned above, Altiris offers a free Energy Saver Toolkit, built on the company's systems management infrastructure. Additionally, LANDesk announced power management utility last March, which can be used with the LANDesk Management Suite, Security Suite, and Patch Manager via LANDesk Updates.

For more information on desktop power management, check out Energy Star's Web site. You might also look to 1E's Energy Awareness Campaign site, which has interesting information and links.

For home PCs, consider Uniblue's LocalCooling tool, offered for free. I've found it pretty easy to use, plus it tracks your energy savings.

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