Less Power to the PC

Arthur Cole

The EPA issued its new Energy Star ratings for PCs and peripherals this week, but the question remains whether enterprises will respond to the new system or look elsewhere to lower their energy bills.

The Energy Star 5.0 specs are not mandatory, although any manufacturer that wants to apply the ES label to their new machines must meet the new standards, rather than the 4.0 spec released about two years ago.

So exactly how much more efficient will the new machines be? The new standard sets a kWh (kilowatt per hour) allowance for laptops of between 40 and 88.5, depending on whether the device employs standby, active or sleep modes. For desktops, the range is 148 to 234 kWH. That puts them somewhere between 30 and 60 percent more efficient than 4.0-rated devices, according to the EPA.

Still, it's important to remember that PC power consumption is only a small fraction of the typical enterprise draw, with servers and storage taking the lion's share in both operational and cooling consumption. Earlier this year, the EPA issued its first Energy Star rating for enterprise servers and is expected to announce specs for things like routers and UPS systems shortly. A separate ES spec for monitors is also due later this year.

Ironically, the organization that will be affected most by the new rating is the federal government itself, which requires Energy Star compliance for all new purchases. Being the largest employer in the country, that may be the primary reason why many manufacturers are quick to roll out new ES products.

Lenovo, for one, is already claiming ES 5.0 compliance for 25 of its Think and Idea PCs, including the ThinkPad X301, T400 and W700ds and IdeaPad U330 and Y430 laptops and ThinkCentre M58, M58p and M58e desktops. The company employs a range of power management and on-mode power consumption techniques to keep within the available power window. The ThinkCentre M58, for example, when coupled with a ThinkVision L1940p monitor, consumes just 377 kilowatts per year.

These kinds of savings don't have to wait for hardware refresh cycles to kick in, however. A number of PC power management software tools have hit the market, fueled largely by last summer's energy crunch. The city of Seattle, Wash., for example, saw its PC energy consumption drop by more than a third after installing Verdiem's Surveyor power management software on more than 8,000 machines across 30 city departments. The results were similar to what Chicago and Honolulu experienced with the same software, a lessening of operational costs by about $30 per PC per year.

No one expects energy-savings on PCs alone to make or break enterprise fortunes. But as part of the broader package of green initiatives, shoring up PC power usage can help improve the bottom line more than most people realize. Deploying energy-efficient machines or loading up existing devices with power management software represents a fairly modest investment that could produce substantial returns in the not-too-distant future, particularly if oil prices spike again.

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Jul 2, 2009 2:17 AM Tim Tim  says:

You make a comment ..."Still, it's important to remember that PC power consumption is only a small fraction of the typical enterprise draw, with servers and storage taking the lion's share in both operational and cooling consumption."  Can you back this up? 

Gartner estimates that 23% of the IT energy footprint is in servers and cooling and 39% in PC's and monitors - Gartner, Inc., 'IT Vendors, Service Providers and Users Can Lighten IT's Environmental Footprint' by Simon Mingay, December 5, 2007

This to me sounds eminently more sensible than your statement as there are typically 1000's more PC's to servers.  Can you explain?

Jul 2, 2009 5:14 AM Bill Reynolds Bill Reynolds  says:

We use 1E's NightWatchman - we needed something to handle our user's open documents during shutdown and this does it it very well. www.1e.com/nightwatchman

Jul 8, 2009 11:40 AM Arthur Cole Arthur Cole  says: in response to Tim

Hi Tim, thanks for the feedback.

I think we're both right and wrong on this one. Gartner's and others' studies usually focus on the largest of the large enterprises, those with thousands of PCs, so in that sense the PC power draw is probably higher.

But the vast majority of enterprises are small and mid-size operations with fewer PCs. In these instances, the server and storage draw is a higher portion of the total.

But I probably did overstate my case when I used the terms "small fraction" and "lion's share."

Either way, deploying a PC power management system is still a good idea, with an ROI that improves as energy costs go up.

Jul 21, 2009 9:00 AM Doug Washburn Doug Washburn  says: in response to Arthur Cole

Hi Tim and Arthur,

You both raise some great points, and if it's helpful, I wanted to add my "two cents" to the discussion. I'm an analyst at Forrester research covering the green IT and energy efficiency space for IT ops professionals and CIOs.

Our recent data finds that 55% of IT's energy footprint comes from distributed IT (e.g. PCs, monitors, printers, phones) and 45% from the data center. While much of the green/energy efficient IT discussion is focused on the data center, I'm now seeing IT pros very interested in looking outside - in particular to PCs and monitors. And as IT takes more ownership in reducing energy-related operating expenses (which Forrester found to be a top priority in 2009 given the down economy), taking a two-pronged approach - within and outside of the data center - will maximize savings.

And as Arthur alluded to, refreshing to more energy efficient equipment is only half of the energy reduction picture. An attractive, and oftentimes even more effective alternative is PC power management software to power down PCs when they're not being used (e.g. weekends, overnight). These software suites are offered by vendors like Verdiem, but also many of the traditional client management suite vendors, like Symantec, 1E, BigFix, LANDesk, etc.

If you're interested in PC power management, but don't have access to Forrester's research, check out some of my blog posts here http://blogs.forrester.com/it_infrastructure/doug_washburns_posts/index.html


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