Power management: What all the cool IT managers are doing now

* Saving money by better managing power consumption

Network managers now have a new way to wow upper managment: Deploying free and commercial tools that better manage power consumption across PCs to save companies money on electricity bills.

We've all seen it. PCs humming along in dimly lit offices after hours, power on but idle by their operators who either forgot to shut down or wanted to get back to work immediately the following day -- too eager to wait for the system to boot. But little do these desktop users know how much money the use of excess energy could be wasting their companies. And while many PCs contain power conservation settings, users typically override them. According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, some 80% of PC users disable their individual power conservation setting within 90 days.

For Boston-based Partners HealthCare, the cost of idling PCs represents about $2.2 million annually. That is according to estimates by Ethan Fener, the nonprofit organization's director of application development. He recently calculated the benefits of implementing free tools from the U.S. Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program and found his organization could save some $2.2 million in electricity costs.

According to Energy Star, General Electric rolled out similar technology and cut energy costs by $25 to $75 per PC annually -- or nearly $6.5 million over three years. And Pitney Bowes saved $160,000 per year on energy bills (or enough energy to power some 2,300 U.S. for a home, Energy Star estimates) by putting 10,500 computer monitors to sleep.

IT managers can opt to partner with Energy Star or work with their desktop management or operating system vendors on enabling power management capabilities in their everyday management regime. For instance, Partners' Fener coupled his existing Altiris client management agents, distributed across some 25,000 desktops, with Energy Star's free tools.

Energy Star's EZ GPO software is free for download and works with Windows 2000 and 2003 servers, and Windows 2000 and XP client operating systems. The software download enables network administrators to centrally control power management settings via GPOs. To Fener, that meant he could enable features on thousands of desktops that would let IT staff monitor power on client machines and then activate system standby, which in essence puts the computer -- the CPU, hard drive and more -- to sleep.

Not only are IT managers realizing the benefits of lower costs and better control over distributed desktops, but the trend is also catching on with other management vendors. To start, Microsoft built power management capabilities into its Vista operating system, and the vendor reports the added capabilities could help enterprise IT managers save between $16 and $30 per desktop by shutting down inactive machines.

And companies such as BigFix and Persystent Technologies built power management capabilities into their latest releases, which have enabled customers to start saving money on energy costs almost immediately.

Dick Hamann, vice president of IT and resources and CIO of Seminole Community College, outside Orlando, Fla., reported tapping an automated feature in Persystent's software that lets him shut down PCs after-hours is saves him some "$65,000 per year in utility bills alone."

And Richard D'Amours, senior network analyst at Edmonton Public Schools in Canada’s Alberta province, wanted to reclaim some of the dollars spent on utilities when he activates the power management features in BigFix.

"There is a fixed cost associated with utilities in our budget, and when you talk about spending money on PCs not being used, you are talking about money leaving the district," said D'Amours, who is responsible for 22,000 desktops across 240 sites with 80,000 users.

Power management could be the next big thing in desktops, because the concept of saving cash must appeal to all IT managers and the promise of free tools from the government and built-in features in commercial wares should ease adoption.

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