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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And other companies have encountered user resistance. Gwinnett Hospital System has dabbled in thin clients, but has stalled at around 100 terminals. "It hasn't always worked out as we had hoped," says Brown, noting that most employees pushed back, preferring to have a fully equipped desktop that runs their applications locally.

5. Print more efficiently

Desktops and laptops aren't the only area where IT can improve efficiency. Printers tend to be kept longer than PCs, but each year new models bring greater efficiencies.

With each generation of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s printers, for example, energy efficiency has increased by 7% to 15%, according to the vendor's statistics. Therefore, replacing units a few generations old with new, Energy Star-labeled models can cut energy costs by as much as 25%. Also, consumables packaging may be smaller with new machines, which means less waste to throw away.

New technologies are also improving efficiency. Last spring, for example, HP began replacing the fluorescent tubes used for photocopying with LEDs in some products. The technology uses 1.4 times less energy during copying and four times less power when idle, according to the company.

Printers are also getting smarter about when to go into low-power mode. Multifunction printers from Xerox, for example, monitor printer usage patterns over time to decide when to power down and bring the machines online.

Both Jenny Craig and Terremark Worldwide have configured printers to print double-sided by default. While using duplex mode doesn't save energy, it does avoid unnecessary utilization of paper, says Jorge Bandin, vice president of information systems and technology at Terremark. Duplex mode can cut paper consumption by up to 25%, says Dave Lombato, environmental lead for HP's LaserJet business.

While that won't cut the company's energy bill, it does cut down on paper costs as well as the energy and carbon emissions required to produce it. According to Forrester Research Inc., pulp and paper manufacturing is the third biggest consumer of energy in North America, behind steel and chemicals.

Administrators can configure duplex printing across all printers, invoke power-saving modes or configure machines to shut down during specific evening or weekend hours using automation tools available from various printer vendors.

Consolidating and better managing printers, scanners and other peripherals also saves energy and money. According to Forrester, an individual copier, printer and fax machine can consume 1,400 kWh of power annually, while a multifunction printer (MFP) consumes half that.

Multifunction printer devices, which combing copying, printing, scanning and fax, offer additional efficiencies, making consumables management easier and saving space as well as energy. Consolidating just two devices into a single machine, for example, cuts energy consumption by about 40%, according to HP. Terremark uses MFPs in conjunction with j2 Global Communications Inc.'s eFax service, which routes incoming faxes to an e-mail in-box instead of to a printer.

But while MFP sales are growing at double-digit rates, many businesses still have an array of printers, copiers, scanners and fax machines that remain largely unmanaged. "For every MFP out there, there are [still] six or seven printers," says IDC analyst Keith Kmetz. By 2011, however, IDC expects the ratio to be closer to one to three.

While there's no one-size-fits-all solution for energy-efficient computing, the best options will be those that complement the business by simplifying processes, making staff more efficient and serving the customer better, says Verizon Wireless' Waghray.

While green isn't necessarily the goal, he says, it is a means to those ends. The best way to begin, he says, is to "start to think about [green computing] as something that's pretty much part and parcel of what you're doing anyway."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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