Software Equals Savings
Power management facts, tactics, and solutions for facility managers in a corporate setting
With increasing pressure from consumers and government to focus on green computing, upper management turns to facility managers to apply power management solutions. Beyond environmental benefits, green computing—specifically in the realm of power management—is a powerful money-saving technique that often puts facility and information technology (IT) managers at odds over implementation processes.
From practical to hardware to enterprise solutions, the potential for corporations to capitalize on power management, while doing their part to help the environment, exists in a big way. The task of implementing a solution falls primarily to facility managers, which can make the process trickier. Many of the solutions on the market cause headaches for IT staff. As a facility manager, you should prepare yourself for potential objections an IT manager might have about limiting maintenance and operational functionality.
The sheer volume of products and services for an energy-efficient desktop management solution presents a wide variety of options for facility managers. The challenge lies in discerning which options outweigh the rest in terms of effectiveness, simple implementation and sustainability, and cost-efficiency. Does the cost of a viable solution outweigh the actual financial benefit? Why exactly should your company adopt a green strategy, and why is power management so effective?
The Pressure for Green Computing Solutions
It seems like everyone is going green today. You see it in the news, in government, in advertisements, and at schools. The pressure is coming from all directions for businesses to adopt a green platform, helping to raise the bar for social and environmental consciousness in commerce. The perks of adopting green computing strategies run beyond economic benefits; green strategies can help position your company as a progressive leader in your field.
As part of a business, the first factor managers often take into account is cost. Is going green an economically viable option, especially during a time of financial crisis? In reality, finding solid green alternatives can often help lower a company’s costs. A great place to start implementing green strategies is at the computer. Power management can be the first avenue to green success, driving fast bottom-line results and savings that often quickly surpass the cost of the solution.
Green strategy has become commonplace in the news, because consumers want to see what businesses—often major contributors to pollution—are doing to better themselves and the communities around them. As studies are performed and statistics are amassed, the average American is beginning to better envision the full scope of the public’s environmental footprint. The demand for progressive business is equally important for B2B and B2C transactions, so projecting a socially conscious image is important for businesses in every industry.
Government echoes the recent public outcry for greater environmental efficiency. Local and federal legislation and government organizations like the EPA and Department of Energy (DOE) are more closely examining and regulating the effects businesses have on our ecosystem. Energy Star, a joint EPA–DOE organization dedicated to environmental efficiency in the home and office, was implemented as early as 1992, but has been gaining significant speed as green business strategy continues moving to the forefront.
Energy Consumption and Business
With the slowing economy, cost trends are demonstrating the strain wasted electricity through excess heat and unused, powered-on equipment can put on companies. Even as early as 2006, the price of commercial electricity rose to 9.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Breaking it down further, the price of coal—which makes up 56% of fuel used to generate electricity—continues to move upwards, while we have seen oil rising to staggering highs over 2008. From a financial perspective, energy efficiency is a cost-effective strategy for companies attempting to stay monetarily stable in an increasingly unstable business environment.
Electricity-spending trends over the past year demonstrate more of the same. Corporations and government agencies spent $4.5 billion on electricity to feed centralized processing in 2007, according to the EPA. Following that same trend, expenditures are projected to reach $7.4 billion by 2011—a consumption level equivalent to the energy output of 25 power plants. Data centers alone are expected to increase annual energy consumption during peak loads by 70% to 12 gigawatts.
An analysis of statistics more relevant to some facility and IT managers produces equally disturbing results. According to the US Department of Energy, an estimated 13% of commercial energy use comes from computers. A conservative estimate of individual desktop computer energy consumption finds that most PCs draw 100 W of power per day. In the US and Western Europe, roughly 100 million workers use PCs daily. That translates to around 10 gigawatts of energy consumption per day—a staggering number even compared to data centers, which currently draw around 7 gigawatts of power during peak loads.
Not surprisingly, Gartner Research reports that energy consumption in 2008 will likely account for close to 48% of all IT budgets.
Energy Consumption and the Environment
IT hardware, which consists of hazardous materials like barium, beryllium, phosphorous, mercury, cadmium, and lead, has significant environmental drawbacks. The Silicon Valley Toxics Commission Coalition claims that technological instances of these unhealthy materials account for 2% of municipal solid waste in the US. But an even more significant environmental footprint is left by the waste that is associated with producing energy to power this hardware.
An EPA trend analysis projects 62 million metric tons of Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will be released into the atmosphere by data centers in 2011. Over a year, 1,000 desktop workstations consume energy equivalent to 880 barrels of oil, which in turn releases 380 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere and creates 130 tons of landfill waste.
According to an IT briefing produced by TechTarget, for every data center processor, there can be 10 times as many departmental and rack servers. For every data center machine, there can be from 50 to more than 250 end-user computers. The average active, powered-on desktop computer consumes 100 W to 300 W of electricity. Much of the electricity that comes through the power cord of the computer is turned into heat and power conversion waste through the PC power supply.
Government Regulation and Power Management
Created in 1992, Energy Star is a joint program of the US EPA and the DOE. Over 2007, the government program claims to have helped eliminate gas emissions equivalent to the pollution created by 27 million cars, helping homes and businesses save around $16 billion on utility bills.
Energy Star offers open source software (EZ GPO, EZ Wizard) as cost-effective alternatives to commercial products. The products are free and open source, but won’t offer the same interface, reporting options, and decentralized management that some of today’s commercial products might include. Still, these products provide viable options for IT managers that need specific, customized solutions and have the time to allocate towards programming such solutions.
The Energy Star Web site provides an array of commercial resources for organizations attempting to implement power management strategies into their work environments. Beyond simple OS-based functionality, which doesn’t always allow for dynamic reporting, decentralized management or versatile process scheduling, Energy Star provides a list of commercial products for efficient power management. Some of the products are Energy Star qualified (meeting guidelines set by EPA and US DOE), while others may not be. The Web site warns that it does not specifically endorse any single product.
Proven Power Management Application and Results
Thus far, we’ve discussed how power management works in theory, but we haven’t seen much hard evidence. Let’s take a look at the effectiveness of power management in the workplace as demonstrated by some notable success stories.
Faronics and the Coeur D’Alene School District
Faronics, a software developer that helps manage, simplify, and secure desktop computing environments, recently released a case study that details the successful implementation of its Power Save product in conjunction with the Coeur d’Alene School District in Coeur d’Alene, ID.
Bryan Martin, Coeur d’Alene District’s director of maintenance, was examining ways the maintenance department could save the district money. After investigating the role energy waste played in the day-to-day activities of the school district, Martin understood the need for a power management system that was more efficient than relying on the user to power down workstations after they had finished using them. In his search for a solution, Martin came across Faronics Power Save.
According to Martin, Power Save was successfully implemented for power management on close to 4,000 workstations that the district manages. Installing and maintaining Power Save resulted in savings close to $300,000 over three years. Additionally, the school district has received recognition from the EPA for saving approximately 2,193,581 kWh annually.
Energy Star and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
Energy Star’s EZ GPO open source power management solution was recently integrated into the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh’s IT platform. Computer labs consisting of 485 machines were outfitted with EZ GPO and Windows Wake-on-LAN functionality to put computers in sleep mode after hours, while simultaneously allowing network updates and processes to run when necessary.
University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was able to save more than $9,000 annually, while cutting energy consumption by close to 75%.
Windows Power Management and GE
Even manipulating built-in operating system power-saving functionality can make a significant dent in expenditures and emissions, albeit on a much larger level. Over a three-year period, General Electric (GE) activated standard Windows power management features that saved the company nearly $6.5 million and prevented 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions from dissipating into the atmosphere. GE saved enough energy to light 23,000 homes a year, while preventing carbon emissions equivalent to planting 5,600 acres of trees. Imagine how much bigger an impact they could make with an enterprise power management system!
Working With IT Managers to Apply a Solution
Because power management starts in the office, data center, or computer lab, facility managers must work with IT managers to decide on a beneficial solution for both parties. The facility team might want to develop a solution that limits the timeframe machines are powered-on; on the flipside, the IT team might be more concerned about finding a solution that doesn’t impede the normal functionality of workstations for users and IT staff. The facility manager should be aware of potential conflicts between power management and office practicality.
The first, and most prominent, objection IT departments might make is the inconvenience of performing standard maintenance when equipment is supposed to be powered-down. Powering down workstations at night interferes with menial, but necessary, IT routines (like patching and update installation) that don’t require performance until after users are finished working. Maintenance is impossible when workstations have been shut off manually or via standard operating system functionality.
To combat this objection, facility managers should choose a solution that allows scheduled Wake-On-LAN power-on capabilities. Multiple products, like Faronics Power Save, and Verdiem Surveyor, employ intelligent power-on capabilities to allow processes to run during scheduled power-down phases, as well as empowering IT managers with the option to schedule these processes via the programs’ interfaces.
A second objection associated with power management is the difficulty of defining “not in use” for powered-off or idle machines. Standard operating systems often rely solely on the absence of mouse and keyboard activity. If a computer is recognized by operating system power-save options as “not in use,” unguided processes and updates started by IT staff can be interrupted by machine shut-off.
Again, many commercial products on the market allow you to customize definitions for workstations that are “not in use” by expanding the definitions to include CPU usage and disk activity, while designating applications that block power-saving modes while they are running. IT managers should have little problem customizing the solution to their own definitions and needs.
Another objection relates to defining a computer’s “off” mode. Does the program simply turn off the monitor? Does it put the computer in standby, hibernate, or shutdown mode? Some solutions will have a variety of definitions, while others will simply power-down the machine. More options allow for greater versatility within IT processes.
A fourth objection is the difficulty of finding a program that has reliable reporting resources. If you can’t measure the benefits, justifying the program’s implementation is far more difficult. Reporting will also help you verify system performance. Again, some programs are equipped with accurate reporting capabilities, while others, including standard OS power management functions, might be less up to the task.
One final and obvious objection: Do the benefits outweigh the actual cost of the solution? Some research and a cost-analysis should give you the answer. Some solutions on the market might prove far more expensive than they are ultimately worth to your company. Make sure to examine all programs warily.
Commercial Solutions Versus Free Solutions
As a facility manager looking to present an economically viable power management solution to your director, you might find yourself tempted to try free power management software. Instituting power management in the home can be done efficiently with one of a few free (generally open source) programs on the market. However, used over an extensive network of machines, the free software solutions won’t have the same enterprise capabilities that many commercial solutions on the market have. IT managers can benefit most from one of these enterprise packages.
The first option IT managers evaluate is Windows or Mac power management features. And why not? The functionality is included in the operating system’s built-in capabilities, no additional software needs to be installed, and there is no additional cost to the company. The first concern about taking advantage of existing OS resources is the absence of enterprise ability and central control, a downfall that makes the OS power management system nearly useless to IT managers. Scheduling power downs can be disruptive to users, as well as IT processes. With no reporting capabilities, measuring the value and savings to your company is extremely difficult. Overall, OS power system management does not offer many benefits in a lab environment; the real application lies in home and individual user functionality.
Adding Energy Star’s EZ GPO to the mix presents a more unified solution for manipulating Windows power management functionality. EZ GPO is a free open source program that allows for greater enterprise capabilities. Even though EZ GPO presents multiple benefits over directly managing OS power management operations, the program is still rife with limitations that could ultimately present more hassles for an IT manager. EZ GPO has no reporting capabilities for energy reduction verification; no intelligent control and settings thresholds for CPU, disk, and critical apps activity; no compatibility with Macs; no user notification of pending power-down events; no scheduling of events or configurations; and no audit mode. These significant drawbacks make a heavy case for looking into commercial software.
Some commercial solutions for power management are part of larger IT suites, like LANDesk’s Management Suite, which offers a comprehensive power management solution as part of a larger enterprise program. A suite like LANDesk could have a place for an IT manager if the company is searching for more comprehensive enterprise coverage. However, if you are simply searching for a power management program, the price of such a large suite of applications would be far greater than that of an individual program.
Facility managers should examine all options available to them before choosing a solution. Remember: Implementing a commercial enterprise product is necessary to cover all your bases and provide comprehensive control of power management settings.
Author's Bio: Mark Sherbin is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in a variety of publications.