Granola: Seeding the cloud for PC power management

Is there anything that meets the classic definition of low-hanging fruit better than PC power management? The act of monitoring energy use from your computer fleet -- and making sure machines are off when not in use -- seems like such a no-brain that it's a wonder that everyone hasn't adopted it.

But there is plenty of room for growth: A report from Pike Research last year found that the market for the many PC power management solutions will grow by 40 percent per year through 2015.

Much of that growth is likely to come from small to medium-sized organizations, the ones that have significant IT energy use but don't necessarily have big money to put to a power management solution.

Last month, Miserware rolled out a new version of its Granola software, and in the process aims to "democratize" the market for PC power management. By creating a menu of a la carte energy-saving software options, and centralizing management in the cloud, Granola makes it easier to dip a toe into the power management pool, or dive in headfirst.

"People will say, 'we have a system in place -- we turn our computers off at night,'" explained Kirk W. Cameron, the CEO of Miserware. "We say 'how do you know?'" All too often, Cameron said, companies don't even know if they have a problem.

Even though computer operating systems all come bundled with some kind of power management feature, and many of them are now shipping new machines with those features switched on, energy used by a company's PC or server fleet is all too often a black box, based on written but not hard-coded policies.

Granola Enterprise 5, however, wants to change that. The software, which was developed by Cameron in his role as a computer science professor at Virginia Tech and launched in April 2010, offers free and rapid footprinting of a computer fleet's energy use.

Within 24 hours of installing the Granola client, you can see how much energy your own computer is using. And if you're an IT administrator, you can track that data across any number of laptops, desktops and servers in your organization.

This kind of entry-level footprinting tool is useful not just for tracking the energy use from your IT department, but also as the first step to cutting IT energy costs.

And the energy savings are significant, as we've documented repeatedly. Whether you're a university like Penn State (using IBM's BigFix), a perennially cash-strapped state like California (using Verdiem) or a global automaker like Ford (using 1E's NightWatchman), there are hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars per year that are just waiting to be saved.

With version 5 of Granola Enterprise, Miserware has released a suite of products that let users go beyond footprinting their IT energy use and start managing it, either a la carte or as a buffet. The software solutions include Insight, for detailed reporting; Power Steering, for centralized power management policies (and tracking results); Power Nap, which enforces remote sleep and shutdown policies; and Power Tuning to apply the same savings to servers.

(For individual users, there's still the free version of Granola personal, available only on Windows and Linux for now, though Cameron said a Mac OS version is in the works for later this year.)

As with the menu of services, Miserware's pricing structure furthers Cameron's notion of democratizing power management; the company has set prices for its products in the single- to low-double digits: from $2 for Insight to $20 for Power Nap for servers. Cameron said these costs meet an ROI of 3 to 4 months, which includes energy savings from sleep and shutdown performance as well as Granola's unique capabilities to reduce energy use while a computer is operating (aka the "dimmer switch" effect).

Granola's dashboard is centralized in the cloud, so once an organization has installed the client, upgrading services takes only as long as processing your credit card.

Granola was developed at a university, with financial support from the government (first the National Science Foundation, and later the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, so it's only fitting that the public sector would be a prime market for the software. (Cameron said that universities from California to Virginia to Spain are among the 300,000 users of Granola so far.)

There's no reason that companies of any size, and particularly small firms, can't also benefit from the rapid insight and potentially quick payback of power management. And no matter which tool you use -- and there are dozens of them on the market -- there are benefits aplenty. But starting with a free tool like Granola seems like a move that will break down the initial barriers that keep cost- and time-constrained organizations from taking the leap into the PC power management market.

Computer lab photo via Shutterstock.