Power Management Summit Shows How Companies Save Millions

Power Management Summit Shows How Companies Save Millions

With what can amount to a flip of the switch, companies across industries are putting to use a solution that is able to save thousands if not millions of dollars on their energy costs, cut their greenhouse gas emissions, and even improve reliability of users' computer systems.

That solution, while not a secret, remains an underutilized tool for companies that are looking to save costs and meet their sustainability goals at the same time: PC power management. And spreading the word about the benefits of power management was the driving force behind an online summit hosted today by the Climate Savers Computing initiative and the EPA's Energy Star Program.

In a nutshell, PC power management involves installing (or even simply activating) the controls for individual computers that puts them to sleep or in standby mode after a period of inactivity or on a set schedule, like nights and weekends.

"CIOs have been under intense pressure to streamline operations and significantly improve their operating expenditures, and get a good ROI on projects," explained Pat Tiernan, the executive director of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which partnered with the EPA's Energy Star program to put on the IT Power Management Summit. "The opportunity here is enormous," Tiernan said.

Steve Ryan, the project manager for the Energy Star Low Carbon IT campaign, estimated the return on investment at about $40 per PC -- $5 per computer in labor costs (to install the program), and anywhere from $0 to $15 per computer for the power management software, for total potential savings of $40 per computer.

Ryan added the caveat that those levels of savings are actually rather conservative, and another example from the Summit bears out his point: Chris Mayor, director of systems architecture at Verizon's central services organization, said that when his company installed the free EZ-GPO power management tool on just the monitors of 11,000 PCs in 14 locations, it saved about $5 million per year.

Because the flat-screen monitors that have replaced cathode-ray tubes in many organizations are much more energy efficient, the computers themselves now use significantly more energy than monitors.

11 Myths About PC Power Management Courtesy of Doug Washburn, Forrester Research
Myth #1: I'm likely to see larger gains in the data center.
Myth #2: The business case for PC Power Management isn't very compelling.
Myth #3: I have to buy new, energy efficient hardware to reduce energy consumption.
Myth #4: The power used turning my PC on negates any benefits of turning it off.
Myth #5: My screen saver is saving me energy.
Myth #6: Turning my PC on and off will reduce its performance and useful life.
Myth #7: I can't run updates, backups and patches for PC in low power states.
Myth #8: There's no clear entry point -- where do I begin?
Myth #9: I have no way of tracking and reporting the benefits.
Myth #10: I don't own my power bill so there's little incentive for me to reduce it.
Myth # 11: My PC users will not tolerate any downtime for power management.

To that end, Mayor told the Summit that Verizon expects to save about $65 per PC per year, all by installing a free piece of software.

The EPA's Ryan has high hopes for the potential cost and environmental savings from power management. He used the example of monitor power management to show the rapid growth: in 1998, only about 20 percent of monitors had power management enabled, by 2006 -- after a widespread educational campaign -- that number is now almost 90 percent.

In the meantime, power management on PCs has gone from about 0 percent penetration in 1998 to just about 4 percent in 2006. But any improvement yields huge dividends: activating power management on just 25 percent of PCs would cut computers' annual electricity use by 10 million megawatt-hours, or enough to power four million homes for a year.

The reason for slow growth of power management in the enterprise boils down to the need for education about ease of use and benefits. To that end, Doug Washburn, an analyst at Forrester Research, laid out and then dispelled 11 myths about power management.

The most prominent misconceptions about PC power management -- several of which were also given by the bulk of attendees at the Summit in a snap poll during the event -- include the belief that there are larger gains to be had in the data center than in the PC fleet, that the business case isn't compelling enough to spur action on power management, and that PC users won't tolerate any downtime for power management.

Pat Tiernan of the Climate Savers Computing Initiative explained early in the two-hour Summit that data centers -- despite the widespread coverage of their environmental impacts -- actually consume a much smaller portion of the electricity in an organization than PCs. Based on research by Gartner, servers use just 23 percent of the total electricity -- and that includes cooling those servers -- while PCs and monitors use 39 percent on average (see figure 1 below for a department-by-department breakdown).

So the money spent on power management is obviously wisely spent, but also has huge bottom-line benefits. In addition to Verizon's example, case studies from Beacon Consultants, the Cadmus Group, Union Bank and the City of Miami were all highlighted at the Summit. And as we reported last October, AT&T put power management to use on 310,000 of its computers, and expects to save $13 million per year in electricity costs as a result.

Power used in organizations

The myth that power management will hinder user experience with their PCs was dispelled by an example from Union Bank. The company found that upgrades and patches were actually easier to install post-power management than before: rather than each individual computer installing an upgrade when its operating system said it was ready -- even if in the middle of the workday -- power management software allowed IT admins to schedule all updates for after-hours, keeping PCs working when employees are busiest.

The Summit outlined a number of free and commercial power management tools: several of the companies offering case studies had put the free EZ GPO tool from Energy Star to work quite effectively, and other free tools include Windows Vista's built-in group policy tool, and Verdiem's Edison (a free, lightweight version of its commercial Surveyor software.

Among the pay-per-seat options for power management, Union Bank used Adaptiva's SMS Companion for its power management project, AT&T used NightWatchman from 1e, and the federal government's General Services Administration last year expedited the purchase of BigFix power management software for 15,000 of its PCs.

The end result of the Summit was to lay out in simple and concrete ways the benefits of PC power management, and to show how easy it can be to flip that switch and start saving money. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative will be posting the full presentation online this week: download it at ClimateSaversComputing.org.