Upgrading Your Systems for Energy Efficient Computing

Upgrading Your Systems for Energy Efficient Computing

There are numerous, simple and effective means of being more environmentally focused on the day-to-day usage and operations of our devices. One example is the removal of active screen savers. A monitor uses the same power to run a screen saver as to run a working Microsoft Windows application, so consider removing the screen saver altogether.

In fact, certain graphic-intensive screen savers can cause the computer to burn twice as much energy than in active mode, and may actually prevent a computer from entering sleep mode.

A well-known service provider recently recounted a story of a customer organization that was adamant (despite being advised otherwise) that they needed a corporate screen saver uploaded to every single PC in the organization. The screen saver contained high definition graphics and photos and was in excess of 10 megabytes in size and took on average 30 minutes to download over the network.

Predictably, within minutes of the screen saver being downloaded the Service Desk was inundated with calls from users reporting degradation in response times and in some cases they reported that their PC had stopped working altogether. Unfortunately, what this led to was an organization-wide upgrade project where PCs were fitted with additional processor and memory capability, and in certain cases the PCs were replaced altogether.

Another means of saving energy and therefore money is to ensure your organization's PCs and monitors have standby settings, and that they are actively used. There are a number of standby options for PCs and monitors including:

• System standby: Drops monitor and computer power use down to 1–3 watts each and activates PC or monitor "wake up" in seconds. This could potentially save the organization £20 to £70 per PC and monitor annually.
• System hibernate: Drops monitor and computer power use down to 1–3 watts each and activates PC or monitor "wake up" in 20 plus seconds. This could potentially save the organization £20 to £70 per PC and monitor annually.
• Turn off monitor: Drops monitor power use down to 1–3 W and activates monitor "wake up" in seconds. This could potentially save the organization £10 to £40 per monitor annually.

Each of the standby options reduces the power requirements once the device is inactive. In addition to entering "standby" status automatically, the product may also enter this mode at a user-set time of day or immediately in response to user manual action, i.e. using the power button.

Also, the majority of modern-day PCs have the additional feature of "waking up" in response to an external prompt, for example a remote upgrade program, but for this to happen the product must maintain network connectivity while inactive, waking up only as necessary.

Even if the device is in system standby or hibernate mode, it can still receive important software updates such as new antivirus definitions and Windows security patches.

Today, computer software is generally pre-configured to automatically download and apply updates shortly after resuming from system standby or hibernate. For organizations there are numerous ways for network administrators to ensure that software updates are applied, including:

• Configure user's devices to apply software patches and updates as soon as the computer becomes available on the network.
• Windows Task Scheduler can wake up sleeping devices for updates. Scripts distributed via Microsoft Active Directory can allow for centrally managed " scheduled tasks".
• With Wake-on-LAN activated, a network administrator can wake up sleeping machines at any time in order to perform on-demand software patches or updates.

Another simple consideration is ensuring PCs and especially monitors are turned off at night or during periods of sustained inactivity. A popular myth often recited is that by leaving computers and other devices on you will use less energy than turning them off and this also makes them last longer. In reality, the small surge of power created when some devices are turned on is vastly smaller than the energy used by running the device when it is not needed.

A further energy-saving initiative being adopted by many organizations is the replacement of traditional desktop PCs with laptops. While there remain functional differences between laptop and desktop PCs, the gaps between price and performance of the two are beginning to recede significantly.

In a report by the Energy Saving Trust, it is stated that on average, a desktop PC and monitor will use approximately seven times more energy in a year than a laptop. It also states that procuring a laptop instead of a desktop PC will result in energy savings of around eighty five per cent of the potential desktop PC system consumption.

It is also claimed that the average savings from the purchase of a laptop rather than a desktop computer will increase considerably over time, due to changes in use and consumption levels. It is important to note that these savings are based upon comparisons of a desktop and LCD monitor against a laptop with no additional monitor.

Research is emerging that demonstrates where laptop users utilise an additional external monitor instead of, or as well as, the laptop monitor the energy saving would be reduced around 33 percent. As a result of the energy saved through the use of laptop PCs over desktop PCs, savings in associated carbon emissions will also be achieved.

As prices become much more competitive and performance converges, sales of desktop PCs are slowing but laptop sales are increasing rapidly. By 2020 it is expected that there will be approximately 22 million laptops and 23 million desktop PCs in the U.K. This represents an 80 percent increase in laptops installed and a 2 percent increase in PC installed, against 2006 figures.

Desktops are still likely to have strength in the market in the near future where upgradeability is important, as it has historically been more difficult and expensive to upgrade and repair laptops, especially ultra-portable laptops (those of very compact and lightweight design). This is because laptops tend to be more integrated (and less modular in design) to achieve space and power savings. Upgrades in laptops are usually limited to the RAM and hard drive, although sometimes the CPU and video card modules can also be upgraded.

For desktops, with an increase in price/specification, often a rise in idle power consumption is also observed. In contrast, for more expensive, higher specification laptops the trend is often reversed, with the higher priced machines consuming less energy in order to preserve battery life.

In summary, procurement of laptop computers in preference to desktop computers can result in considerable energy savings and related cost and carbon emission savings, especially taking into account the trend in the laptop market towards greater energy efficiency.

However, there are other additional factors to consider in the choice between the two PC products. In particular, organizations should consider consumer requirements, such as the portability offered by laptops and the greater upgradeability potential of desktop PCs. Careful consideration should also be given to the energy overheads of external monitors and docking stations where laptops are selected for large-scale use instead of desktop PCs.

Organizations should also be aware that, while the energy efficiency of products can greatly influence energy consumption, the amount of time that consumers use the equipment can also be very influential on overall energy use.

Another technique to assist organizations in achieving energy efficient computing is sustainable data storage and the removal of files and documents that are no longer required. Many organizations are now using de-duplication technology to identify and remove identical copies of data, documents, spreadsheets and other file types.

Data de-duplication solutions will help to lower the disk and/or the bandwidth capacities required by reducing the organization's capacity requirements. Effectively this means fewer disks are needed to store the same amount of data. This translates to less bandwidth being required to move and copy that data across the organization's networks. Beyond these cost reductions, there is also the added benefit of a reduction in storage and network infrastructure which also leads to a reduction in embodied and consumed GHG emissions.

[Editor's note: This is an excerpt from a new book, Green IT for Sustainable Business Practice, by Mark O'Neill; the excerpt originally appeared on BusinessGreen, and is reprinted with permission.]

Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user L. Marie.