Why PC Power Management Is Looking Dimmer

Peter Judge

Peter Judge used to think PC power management was the coolest thing in Green IT. Now he isn’t so sure

A couple of years back, the Green IT crowd tended to agree that while data centres were an obvious place to economise on energy, PC power management was actually more important.

Although data centres are big and obvious, most organisations use more power in the computers running on their desks, and they have less control of that power, we were told. PCs are left on overnight, and waste energy in many other ways.

Power electricity on switch © Olivier Le Moal Shutterstock

Where did the specialists go?

A poll of my readers on TechEeek (then called eWeek Europe) placed PC power management top of a list of efficiency measures, by a long way. A bunch of specialist vendors likie Verismic, 1E, Verdiem and JouleX offered products to help do it.

But then it all went quiet – at least as far as I could see. I spoke with Verismic’s CEO Ashley Leonard last week, and he agrees that innovation slowed down in the field.

The old vendors are diversifying: 1E has a general “efficiency” schtick, and is handling software management and other things, while JouleX is more of a data center management firm, and has been bought by Cisco.

My impression is that PC power management has been hit by the recession, as IT organisations stopped making green investments without an obvious payback. In most organisations, the IT department might get billed for the electricity used in the data center, but it doesn’t see the power demands of desktop clients, even those nominally under its control. That goes through facilities management.

So there has been little incentive to do anything.

Power management sorts itself out?

Add to that the fact that the problem is sorting itself out to some extent – ar at least changing, as the clients we use alter. Laptops use a fraction of the power of a desktop. A laptop may use around 50W, while a desktop can use 500W. They are designed to run off batteries, and have all the features the designers can put in, to make those batteries last longer.

Laptops have been taking over the corporate environment for some time – and cutting power usage in the process.

However, though the market for the old-school desktop PC has crumbled, there are still plenty in use – around 60 percent of the installed base in corporates. Those machines are tenacious, and worth tending till they are retired.

But the laptops are often out of reach of the corporate network, and staff are using tablets and smartphones almost as much as their computer. The client landscape is so decentralised, that surely the idea of central control of power management is a non-starter. And in any case, a greater proportion of the power is in the cloud anyway.

Leonard concedes all that, but still believes PC management makes good sense commercially. His angle is that this is to do with more than saving power – it can boost ease of use.

Laptop screens use up to 4W, but can be dimmed down to use 0.5W in the right light conditions. A power management system can take control of the screens on all the company’s machines and dim them when the background light is right.

That only saves a couple of Watts, though. Do the sums quickly and if you save save 2W per hour of the office day, over a year you might save 3kWh – at a cost of around 30p (about 50c to Americans).

That’s not going to pay for desktop client software – but Leonard reckons the benefit comes from helping staff avoid eyestrain.

He’s also turns around that “switch them off” routine. One of the benefits he puts forward for PC power management is a heuristic program which learns when you want your PC, and turns it on for you.

Add that all up, and it’s pretty clear that power management isn’t top of the green agenda anymore. But it could still be worth a look though, if your staff find their PCs a bit dazzling.

This article appeared on Green Data Center News.

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