PC power management for every occasion

Organizations looking to cut PC power waste have alternatives to pricey management suites

It's astonishing how quickly the little things can turn into something big. A small leak in the basement, left unfixed, can result in some serious damage to your foundation. A couple of flies buzzing around the kitchen can quickly multiply into a plague of Biblical proportions. Making those "fun size" candy bars a part of your regular hourly snacking routine can swiftly increase the waist size of your Levi's.

The same goes for leaving a PC running 24/7. At the back of your mind, you might note that it's wasting electricity -- but surely it won't amount to much. If you were handed a bill at the end of the year tabulating the cost of the burned watts, however, you might think differently. Depending on machine model, energy costs, and other factors, you could be looking at a couple of hundred dollars down the tubes. That's a lot of fun-size candy bars. Now multiply that figure by the number of machines at your organization, and suddenly, you're talking about king-size candy bars.

[ Check out the InfoWorld Test Center's hands-on test of enterprise-geared PC power management products. | Keep abreast of green IT news and tips by subscribing to InfoWorld's free weekly Green Tech newsletter. ]

The question, then, is how do you go about verifying that end-users at your organization are powering down machines on a regular basis -- preferably while making sure they aren't wasting time each day waiting for machines to power off and on and that computers are being properly patched and backed up at night? The InfoWorld Test Center this week took a look at higher-end PC management suites that include power-management features. Organizations with tighter budgets or that have PC management suites in place might be interested in examining the alternatives, ranging from free utilities to tools groomed specifically for PC power management.

Free for all
Among the free tools is Energy Star's free EZ GPO software, a utility for network administrators who run Windows Active Directory and manage client workstations using Group Policy Objects (GPOs). EZ GPO provides GPOs for centrally configuring power management settings in Windows XP and 2000, if your organization is still clinging to the latter. It uses an automated installer, and it contains two binary applications: one that runs as a service and one that runs on login under each user's account. EZ GPO reads the power-management settings configured by GPOs, and it intelligently selects only capable computers when activating system standby (generally, systems with Pentium 4 chip sets capable of S3 standby mode).

Though free, EZ GPO doesn't equip admins with the tools to rouse computers from their slumber for patching and backup. Admins would have to configure machines to apply software patches and updates as soon as they become available on the network, such as during the user log-in process. Windows Task Scheduler also can wake sleeping computers at a designated time to download and install updates. Learn more or download EZ GPO at Terra Novum's site.

If you've made the move to Vista, however, you don't need a tool like EZ GPO. Unlike with Windows XP, you can control Power Management in Vista directly through Group Policy, using Windows Server 2008, Windows Server 2003, or even Windows 2000 Server.

Vista trumps XP's power management features in another way: It's machine-based rather than user-based. Any change in settings, whether made by a user or by Group Policy, will be applied globally to the system no matter who is logged in. They will also be applied if no user is logged in. Learn more about managing Vista Power Management [PDF].

Middle of the road
There are options available for organizations that want more control and ease-of-use than what the free options provide -- but aren't in the market for a new, full-on PC power management suite. Among them is an offering called PC Powerdown. Notably, Verizon first deployed EZ GPO as part of a company-wide attempt to curb energy waste but found it needed greater capabilities, such as Wake-on-LAN (WOL) capability. WOL rouses sleeping PCs for patching and backups in the middle of the night, thus reducing delays and interruptions for end-users during the work day.

Among its other features, PC Powerdown provides a real-time view of which machines are connected to the network and what power state they're in. From there, an admin can allocate computers to groups, then apply different power schedules to each group. That way, for example, employees who regularly arrive at nine and leave at five can have a power scheme suited to their schedule, whereas end-users with erratic work schedules or are on the late-night shift will have a different scheme.

PC Powerdown also generates reports as to approximately how much an organization is saving through PC power management.

Other vendors offer applications groomed especially for PC power management, such as Verdiem with its Surveyor product. Surveyor's features include Wake-on-LAN; the ability to save data in open applications (in case Harold in marketing didn't save his Q4 report before taking off); and integrated support for Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007. Surveyor also boasts an add-on component called Sustainability Dashboard, an interactive reporting tool that shows how much energy an organization consumes and saves.

1E is another player in the PC power management game. It offers NightWatchman, which delivers features such as Web-based reporting on energy consumption, costs, CO2 emissions, and more. The data is recorded by each client agent and compiled centrally.

The product offers the granular control for creating power management policies and applying different policies to different groups. Moreover, the solution allows IT admins to define a policy to stifle energy-wasting Windows processes (those that provide no useful purpose) while maintaining a PC's stability.

Additionally, NightWatchman integrates with Microsoft ConfigMgr and Systems Management Server 2003. If you're running those products alongside NightWatchman, you can automatically wake PCs for scheduled software or patch distributions.

Given the array of PC power management options out there, the rebates available for deploying them, and the potential savings to be enjoyed, there's no excuse not to embrace the technology.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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