Three Rules for Managing PC Power Usage

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Nearly a third of tech's power usage comes from PCs and peripherals, according to a new Gartner report. How can companies stem this power flow? CIOs can follow a few simple rules for saving energy and reducing costs. For starters, they need to avoid falling for some of the power-saving myths swirling around PCs and then craft a solid power-management policy.

But the truth is that many CIO's are behind the curve when it comes to PC power usage. Forrester Research surveyed 91 IT professionals recently and found that more than half don't have a PC power management policy, although the majority of them are considering putting one in place.

[ Companies can save money with PC power management practices, reports CIO. | Check out five PC power myths debunked. ]

Rule 1: Powering down really does save energy.

A popular myth is that powering down a PC doesn't save energy because it takes more power to start the darn thing up again. Forrester did the math last year and refuted this thinking: The average desktop draws 89 watts per hour, thus consuming 1.42kW during the night. The power surge from starting your PC is only a fraction of this amount.

Many PC power management policies are just hopeful reminders for users to power down their PCs and input certain power-saving settings. Like most end-user policies, it's a hit-and-miss proposition. Forrester recommends PC power-management software that offers some automation with provisioning, administration, power settings and reporting. Such tools are relatively inexpensive, adds Gartner, and often fully recover their cost.

Some IT pros counter that turning PCs off and on regularly will result in wear and tear on the machines. But Forrester, citing the Rocky Mountain Institute, debunks this claim: "Modern computers are designed to handle 40,000 on/off cycles before failure." Moreover, powering down PCs may improve the life of computers because this limits the use of fans and helps protect circuit boards from overheating.

Rule 2: Steer clear of vendor lies.

Vendor-provided figures for PC hardware draw just isn't reliable, says Gartner, which advises companies to use a simple power meter instead. Tracking electricity use, of course, has been a moving target since saving energy first appeared on a CIO's radar screen a few years ago.

Once you get a handle on your PC power usage, Gartner and Forrester recommend crafting a power-management policy. Gartner advises companies to create "a statement of enterprise intentions and link it to a set of goals and key performance indicators, such as increased energy efficiency, highest vendor environmental standards, and the exclusion of specific toxins by a given date."

Be ready for some end-user pushback-no one likes policies that may lead to downtime. Just remember, though, that people are willing to put up with discomfort if they think it might help save the planet. Forrester found that one of the most popular motivations for pursuing green IT is to "do the right thing for the environment," and CIOs can tap into this do-good impulse.

An exclusive CIO survey of 280 IT executives last year shows two primary factors driving change: cost-cutting efforts related to energy efficiency; and efforts to be more socially responsible corporate citizens.

Rule 3: Set realistic goals and establish reporting mechanisms.

A company-wide goal of 50 percent reductions in PC energy usage sounds nice but might not be achievable depending on your organization, Gartner advises. That's because a company's PC environment is often far-flung and varies from group to group. It's better to start small and set goals for specific groups or business units.

Another myth CIOs need to avoid is that their monthly power bill will suddenly shrink after these PC power-management policies are put in place. Controlling PC power usage and gaining cost savings is a work in progress. Savings will occur, albeit over time as power-management practices evolve.

Even when power savings are negligible, says Gartner, the ability to report on emission reductions will become increasingly important. Most power-management software comes with auditing tools that help CIOs track their progress.

One of the biggest hurdles in the power-saving movement concerns disposal of PCs. Environmentally friendly disposal involves some additional costs. And in this current economy, moral environmental principles often take a backseat to the harsh reality of the balance sheet.

Got a different take? Send me an email at Tom Kaneshige. Or follow me on Twitter @kaneshige

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This story, "Three Rules for Managing PC Power Usage" was originally published by CIO.

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