Five tips for low-energy business computing

Energy efficiency isn't just for the data center. Here's how to save some greenbacks by powering down out front.

Meters range from the simple to the advanced. P3 International's Kill A Watt or Sea Sonic Electronics Co.'s Power Angel are both simple to use and inexpensive.

More advanced units, such as the Watts Up Pro from Electronic Educational Devices, store data and include software for downloading and graphing that data to show watts, volts and kilowatt-hour consumption over time, giving a more accurate picture of power use.

When the facilities staff at Farmer's Almanac publisher Gieger Brothers in Lewiston, Maine, did an initial power audit, it became "a driving force behind initiatives to get power consumption down," says Joe Marshall, business systems analyst and software specialist at the firm. The audit revealed computer equipment was consuming nearly as much power after hours as it was during the day.

After you've audited energy use, the next step is to audit your internal processes to ensure that equipment is being used in the most energy-efficient manner, says Robert Aldrich, a senior manager specializing in energy efficiency at Cisco Systems. And once you have that process audit -- in other words, once you know how well you are doing human-behavior-wise -- the next step is to "kick the tires on technology" by taking a look at utilities such as power management tools, he says.

2. Adopt and enforce power management

"The biggest impact you're going to make in your overall computing environment is to get systems to go to sleep," says Dell's Weisblatt. For example, a laptop that uses 14 to 90 watts in full operation uses less than 1 watt in standby mode. Desktops consume even more, and a single CRT monitor may use upward of 90 watts.

Most companies, however, aren't managing power settings in a coordinated way, and many desktops don't have power management turned on at all.

Enhanced power management tools provided by system vendors aren't even installed in the baseline system image of many corporate PCs. "We do all this work to make [computers] optimized for power management, and we find big corporations go and make changes and deoptimize it," says Howard Locker, director of new technology at Lenovo.

The issue is that it takes IT extra work to integrate and test Lenovo's bundled software with the company's standard image, he says. Often, organizations don't want to take the time to do that.

Some corporations, however, are starting to get the message. Network administrator Keith Brown deployed LANDesk Software's LANDesk to manage -- and lock down -- power settings on all laptops, desktops and attached monitors at Gwinnett Hospital System in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Like 1E's SMSWakeUp, LANDesk takes advantage of Intel Corp.'s vPro Active Management Technology (AMT), a feature built into its vPro series processors that supports remote management. That allows LANDesk and similar tools to remotely turn on PCs, upload updates, and turn them off again. "It allows you to do 'out-of-band' management on desktops," allowing control even when machines are turned off, explains Brown.

For times when laptops are turned on -- that is, when they're being used by employees -- Lenovo recommends configuring the disk drive to spin down after five minutes of inactivity, the monitor to go blank at 10 minutes, and the machine to go into standby, or suspend, mode after 20 minutes.

Others, such as Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist at the energy efficiency think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, recommend even more aggressive settings. He suggests turning off monitors and spinning down the disk drive after just two or three minutes of inactivity.

Verizon's Waghray says he had no trouble enforcing power-saving settings. Machines power off at 12:30 a.m. and back on at 5:30 a.m. Desktop monitors and hard drives go into power-saving mode after two hours, while on thin clients the monitors and processors go into low-power mode after 20 minutes of inactivity.

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