Green Desktops without Virtualization

Arthur Cole

The trend toward reducing enterprise power consumption has naturally focused largely on the biggest components: the server farm, storage facilities and networking infrastructure.

So it would probably surprise some people to learn that even the most energy-efficient data center makes only a marginal dent in overall enterprise consumption. That's because the lion's share of the typical enterprise power draw -- maybe to two-thirds by some estimates -- goes to the desktop.

That little fact is the single biggest driver of desktop virtualization solutions, which are likely to gain significant traction in the coming year as top vendors, and the government, look for ways in which IT investment can keep the economy going and lower our dependence on fossil fuels.

But for those of you not ready to deploy a virtual desktop infrastructure, are there any ways to wean your desktop infrastructures off its gluttonous ways?

Fortunately, yes, according to Jack Pouchet, Emerson Network Power's chief conservation guru. One of the most effective tools is the new generation of energy-management software. The latest systems provide for centralized control of desktops, providing for automatic shut-down and running full diagnostics to determine if desktop fleets can be reconfigured more efficiently. He says many of these systems are so effective that they pay for themselves within a year.

Many of the top PC manufacturers are also hearing from customers and designing their latest models with energy-efficient components. Starting next year, most will take advantage of new low-power processors like the Core i3 and i5 from Intel. That they provide integrated CPU and graphics is a huge bonus, as is the new 32nm process on which they are built. Intel has also devised a new Turbo Boost system that can tailor processing speed to meet workload demands, or shut down individual cores if not needed.

There are also the new lines of mini PCs that offer reasonable performance at cut-rate energy usage. One of the most efficient, according to UK analyst firm Sust-it, is the 2.0 GHz Mac Mini, which came in at only 49.4 kWh per year. That's a far cry from a standard Mac Pro, which drew 770.8 kWh per year using 2.66 quad core Xeons.

Another contender is CompuLab's PC2i, which bills itself as the smallest (about 4 inches square) PC with dual GbE capability. The device consumes only 8 watts at full load using an Atom Z5xx processor with 2 GB of DDR2 RAM. It can also hold a 2.5-inch hard-disk drive and features an aluminum die-cast body.

As the economy pulls out of recession, it would be easy to put energy efficiency on the back burner once again. But that approach could come back to bite you. Energy costs, if you'll recall, are strict followers of supply and demand. So as economic activity picks up and demand increases, expect to see that energy bill start to creep up again.

And if you are the reactive type, you'll find that the energy-saving technologies of today are still available, but at a premium price.

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