Why free PC power management tools may not be worth the money

Why free PC power management tools may not be worth the money

When selecting a PC power management product, there are many options to choose from, including premium, cheap and even free. While the free options are still preferable to nothing at all, they are missing a number of key capabilities. There is often an assumption that these capabilities are simply icing on the cake. Indeed, many organizations regard their power management needs as being "not like those other companies out there" and feel that they "just need what's good enough." Here are five key reasons why it is not quite so simple:

1. Demonstrate savings… credibly

A report showing savings is surely the goal of any power management project, but it needs to be believable. One method of calculating savings that is employed by many of the less sophisticated solutions is to measure the current consumption and compare it to what it would have been if all PCs had previously been left on. This is highly inaccurate because it claims credit for any power management that existed before the project began, such as diligent users turning off their own computers.

For this reason, if you were to run this report prior to doing any power management it would claim that it was already generating savings! This level of fallibility means that these reports are basically worthless for reporting to the press, shareholders or for compliance with legislation.

Recommendation: Find a solution that uses multiple baselines, comparing an accurate measure of what you were using with what you are using.

2. A cure for sleeplessness

Sleeplessness (also known as insomnia) is another issue that a significant majority of power management systems fail to address. Sleeplessness is where the system fails to go into standby or hibernate mode at the appropriate time because a process on the system keeps it awake, which means power savings are lost.

Sometimes this is appropriate, for example with PowerPoint or Media Player (where there are long periods of apparent user inactivity), but more often than not it happens for no good reason. Antivirus software and in-house apps are a common cause of sleeplessness. There's also the issue of unexpected wakeups where a "sleeping" PC is woken prematurely due to a slight movement of a mouse or general network activity. This failure to be in low power mode when not in use can add up to serious money.

Recommendation: Ensure that your chosen power management solution can detect problems that cause sleeplessness and critically remediate them to ensure that maximum savings are achieved.

3. Save users' work

Some vendors will promise you power management without having to turn off PCs with features such as standby, hibernate etc. Sooner or later though, you will have to reboot them; the IT department needs to push out security updates because machines become unhealthy if they don't get a periodic reboot.

Either your users get prompted to reboot their computers during the day after the patch has been deployed or, preferably, the PC gets rebooted overnight. Even minutes of user downtime for a reboot once per week adds up to major dollars across a large organization. Furthermore, if a user actually loses unsaved work during a scheduled reboot, then you have negated any financial savings you would generate on that PC across an entire year or more.

Recommendation: Your PC power management solution must consider the reboot scenario (both from the IT department and end user perspective) and ideally integrate with your patch management technology.

4. Be accurate

When reporting on consumption or savings, there are a number of key metrics you need to be aware of. Of these metrics, the quantity of electricity your PCs use and how much you are paying for that electricity, are the two most important. Many solutions on the market simply use averages for these values. The more advanced ones may allow different averages for laptops and desktops, but this is still woefully inaccurate.

For example, a low-energy PC can use as little as 25W, while a high performance workstation could be using over 300W. The same is true for the cost of energy. A U.S. location might pay 10 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas in Canada the tariff could be 30 cents. With such a massive difference, does an average make sense? This is a serious problem if these reports need to be used for reporting to demonstrate compliance with legislation or for corporate sustainability objectives.

Recommendation: If your organization has more than one type of PC or multiple locations, then a solution that allows multiple energy tariffs and has an understanding of the energy consumption of different makes and models is essential.

5. Dealing with the exceptions

An enterprise computing environment is a complex landscape of differing hardware, applications and diverse external requirements such as departmental working patterns. Basic level power management solutions address this by excluding systems with "exotic" requirements.

For instance, one might exclude computers in the finance team that have a specific app, because they need to run overnight once per month. As the project rolls on, more and more machines that have some special circumstance are identified and excluded, having a significant impact on the accuracy of the results of the project.

Recommendation: Consider the edge cases -- does the solution allow you to power manage as many machines as possible? Is it capable of dealing with all of these special user groups?

It might appear at first glance that your "free" power management may be good enough. In reality, the lack of critical capabilities will only give you, at best, some power savings on some of your systems some of the time. With such optimistically inaccurate reporting, you will never have clear visibility into the real situation. In the end, you have two choices: Implement power management properly, or not at all, because a weak solution will cost you more in the long run.

PC Power Button photo via Shutterstock.