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.

At Gieger, things were different. While the company does centrally control power management settings, it has had to back off a bit. "There's been a little bit of pushback on that, so we're taking baby steps," Marshall says, noting that current monitor timeouts are set for one hour.

The problem for users is that recovery times vary. Getting back online from hibernate mode, where the system turns off and the system's state is saved to disk, can take up to 30 seconds. It takes just a few seconds, though, to recover from low-power suspend mode or for the monitor or disk drive to come back to life. Still, some users don't like to wait at all, says Marshall.

Every organization needs to find the right balance, managers say. "A few seconds of [wait] time for the average person is not going to be invasive," says Jorge Bandin, vice president of information systems and technology at hosted services provider Terremark Worldwide Inc. His company forces all PCs to go into sleep mode after 30 minutes of inactivity.

In a call center, where computers are in use all the time, sleep mode less of an issue, but even so, people aren't given a choice, says Waghray. When users step away from a console for more than a couple of minutes, the system is powered down and locked.

3. Dump those CRTs

Replacing older computers and peripherals with Energy Star-rated equipment can save both energy and space -- and the lower power consumption can significantly reduce cooling loads in office areas, further extending savings.

The place to start is with CRT displays.

"The biggest offenders are the monitors," says Brown. Most businesses have already begun phasing out CRTs in favor of more efficient LCDs, which use about one-third less power, but they still have plenty of CRTs waiting to go. Verizon Wireless accelerated its refresh cycle because doing so not only saved energy but freed up valuable desk space in its call centers, says Waghray.

Energy savings can add up. Brown estimates that Gwinnett Hospital System is already saving between US$30,000 and US$60,000 a year in electricity costs by replacing about 70% of its CRTs with LCD monitors and using automated power management tools.

4. Slim down the client

As for the desktop, look for equipment that is Energy Star 4.0 compliant. Previous Energy Star ratings looked only at low-power modes, but "with this new version, we're comparing energy use while working," the EPA's Kaplan says. Computers that meet the standard consume 20% to 50% less energy than those that meet previous Energy Star standards, says Kaplan.

Compact PC models, such as Lenovo's ThinkCentre A61e desktop or Dell's Inspiron 531, are more efficient than standard desktops and save space as well as power (the A61e is about the size of a 3-inch-thick notebook binder). Compact PCs may use as little as half the power of a standard desktop, include Energy Star 4.0-mandated high-efficiency power supplies that are at least 80% efficient and include a low-speed fan that reduces noise levels.

Many businesses, including Jenny Craig, are moving to a Terminal Services or Citrix Presentation Server setup, which enables them to use easily managed thin client PCs on the desktop. Thin clients use less power and space, since they have no disk drive or fan, and the Windows session and applications run on the server.

For Jenny Craig, the noise factor was as important as energy savings when choosing Wyse Technology's thin clients. "When you throw 10 or 12 PCs into a front desk, you can't hear your customers anymore," says Alessandra Nicoletti, director of IT operations. So she moved the stores onto a Citrix Presentation Server back end and Java applications, and populated 484 Jenny Craig centers with thin clients from Wyse, which don't need a fan. Operating power consumption ranges from 6 and 35 watts, and power management settings can be locked and remotely managed.

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