Save money this winter: 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.

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Like 1E's SMSWakeUp, LANDesk takes advantage of Intel Corp.'s vPro Active Management Technology (AMT), a feature built into its vPro series processors that supports remote management. That allows LANDesk and similar tools to remotely turn on PCs, upload updates, and turn them off again. "It allows you to do 'out-of-band' management on desktops," allowing control even when machines are turned off, explains Brown.

For times when laptops are turned on -- that is, when they're being used by employees -- Lenovo recommends configuring the disk drive to spin down after five minutes of inactivity, the monitor to go blank at 10 minutes, and the machine to go into standby, or suspend, mode after 20 minutes.

Others, such as Amory Lovins, chairman and chief scientist at the energy efficiency think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, recommend even more aggressive settings. He suggests turning off monitors and spinning down the disk drive after just two or three minutes of inactivity.

Verizon's Waghray says he had no trouble enforcing power-saving settings. Machines power off at 12:30 a.m. and back on at 5:30 a.m. Desktop monitors and hard drives go into power-saving mode after two hours, while on thin clients the monitors and processors go into low-power mode after 20 minutes of inactivity.

At Gieger, things were different. While the company does centrally control power management settings, it has had to back off a bit. "There's been a little bit of pushback on that, so we're taking baby steps," Marshall says, noting that current monitor timeouts are set for one hour.

The problem for users is that recovery times vary. Getting back online from hibernate mode, where the system turns off and the system's state is saved to disk, can take up to 30 seconds. It takes just a few seconds, though, to recover from low-power suspend mode or for the monitor or disk drive to come back to life. Still, some users don't like to wait at all, says Marshall.

Every organization needs to find the right balance, managers say. "A few seconds of [wait] time for the average person is not going to be invasive," says Jorge Bandin, vice president of information systems and technology at hosted services provider Terremark Worldwide Inc. His company forces all PCs to go into sleep mode after 30 minutes of inactivity.

In a call center, where computers are in use all the time, sleep mode less of an issue, but even so, people aren't given a choice, says Waghray. When users step away from a console for more than a couple of minutes, the system is powered down and locked.

3. Dump those CRTs

Replacing older computers and peripherals with Energy Star-rated equipment can save both energy and space -- and the lower power consumption can significantly reduce cooling loads in office areas, further extending savings.

The place to start is with CRT displays.

"The biggest offenders are the monitors," says Brown. Most businesses have already begun phasing out CRTs in favor of more efficient LCDs, which use about one-third less power, but they still have plenty of CRTs waiting to go. Verizon Wireless accelerated its refresh cycle because doing so not only saved energy but freed up valuable desk space in its call centers, says Waghray.

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To save energy, move data, not people

Energy-efficient computers are good, energy-efficient people are even better. A green office is about more than using energy-efficient equipment: The application of information technology to support teleconferencing and telework can make both people and businesses more efficient.

Several hundred people employed with Cox Communications Inc.'s call center this year began working four out of five days from home. Using a browser and their own home computers, remote staff access a suite of applications hosted on a Citrix Presentation Server back end.

To access the system, call center workers download a browser plug-in and then authenticate to the system. "We can present the entire environment to any computer anywhere. We even stream content to employees for staff meetings," says Josh Nelson, vice president of information and network technology.

By rotating different teleworkers into the office on different days of the week, Cox has cut computer equipment and cubicle space needs, and avoided a building expansion.

Employees benefit, too: In an era of $3 a gallon gasoline, they have taken to the voluntary program because it saves four commuting trips to the office each week and takes several hundred cars -- and the emissions they produce -- off the roads each day. "It's been quite impressive from a cost perspective [and] what it does for the environment," Nelson says.

Terremark Worldwide Inc.'s hosting business requires employees to travel both globally and locally between facilities for everyday meetings. It recently deployed videoconferencing systems from Tandberg to tie together conference rooms between its facilities. Before, staff made regular trips between the main offices and its hosted data center facilities two hours away.

"It helped us avoid about 20% of the travel we were doing before," says George Bandin, vice president of information system and technology. "Just within our own facilities, it's a huge savings in fuel and time."

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