Five tips for low-energy business computing

Energy efficiency isn't just for the data center. Here's how to save some greenbacks by powering down out front.

First, the data center dialed back its power consumption. Now it's the front office's turn.

Concerned about soaring energy costs, IT organizations have begun to make significant changes to the way their data centers are powered and cooled. But many IT departments haven't yet looked at saving energy by targeting the rest of the company's IT equipment.

That's short-sighted, say IT organizations that have been down this road. The reason -- data centers may use more power per square foot, but as a percentage of total power consumption, it's office equipment that's the big kahuna.

"Office equipment has become more highly featured and powerful than ever before, but there's an energy cost to that," says Katherine Kaplan, who manages the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star consumer electronics and IT initiatives.

"If you look at overall power consumption, you're seeing almost double for computers and monitors than for data centers," says Jon Weisblatt, senior product manager, power and cooling initiative at Dell.

Verizon Wireless is one company that is saving plenty of green by going green. Earlier this year, the wireless carrier deployed NightWatchman power management software from 1E that puts desktop computers and monitors in offices, stores and call centers into power-saving mode after a period of inactivity, overriding any personal settings. Another 1E product, SMSWakeup, automatically "wakes up" those machines after hours to deliver patches and updates, shutting them down again when the process is complete. "It saved us [money] just turning computers on and off on demand," says CIO Ajay Waghray.

But Waghray didn't stop there. He also replaced 7,000 PCs with power-sipping Sun Ray thin clients from Sun Microsystems in Verizon's call centers and migrated to LCD monitors companywide (a process that's still ongoing). Replacing nonmanaged PCs in 10 call centers with 7,000 managed thin clients cut energy use for that equipment by 30%, says Waghray. He estimates that the two initiatives combined have cut front-office power consumption by US$900,000 a year.

To Waghray, going green is good business. The projects were good for customer service -- off-hours patching and the more-reliable thin clients improved uptime and reduced trouble-ticket volumes by 50%. "Just do business to make things more efficient, simple and customer focused, and green becomes a very important factor," he says.

There were an estimated 900 million desktops in use worldwide in 2006, according to IDC. Even if all of those units were Energy Star 2006 compliant, they would still consume 426 billion kWh of power annually.

If all of that equipment met the 2007 Energy Star 4.0 specification, it would cut power consumption by 27% over 2006 Energy Star levels, according to Marla Sanchez, principal research associate at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. That would save 115 billion kWh -- enough to power all of Switzerland for nearly two years -- and cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 178 billion lbs.

To do your part to reduce some of those emissions -- and save your own company some dough -- by following our five tips on saving resources and increasing the efficiency of front-office equipment.

1. Do an energy audit

It's hard to know where you stand if you don't first measure the efficiency of the equipment you have.

Fortunately, doing a power audit of ordinary office equipment is less complicated than auditing your data center. A simple, inexpensive meter that fits between the target device plug and the outlet can measure both current loads and cumulative power consumption over time.

If you select a device with a typical usage pattern -- say, a laser printer that gets an average-for-your-office workout each day -- you can multiply the results across the total population of similar equipment to quickly estimate total power consumption. From there, all you need to do is multiply use in kilowatt hours by your local electricity rates and you've got a baseline for savings.

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Robert L. Mitchell

Computerworld

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