Energy Conservation the IT Way – Part I

Even though gas prices have fallen dramatically in the past few weeks, it seems almost a certainty—right up there with death and taxes—that this welcome trend will change.

Although not tied as tightly to the price of crude, as oil prices change so do things like the costs of electricity, which companies use with abandon. In short, fossil fuel energy is getting more and more expensive.

Alas, while there aren’t all that many off-the-shelf technologies out there for the conservation-minded CIO or IT manager to put in place, there some very basic things he or she can do that, over time, make a difference, said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist who studies these issues for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

“The simplest thing to do is to buy Energy Star rated IT equipment,” said Horowitz. “The way Energy Star works is, in general, if there is a 100 models they have test data from then they’ll draw a line and say the top 25 of those earn energy star. So you’re purchasing agent—all they need to do is buy Energy Star.”

Okay, this is nothing new. But, Horowitz points out, you can save between $50-to-$100 per-year, per-computer (if, of course, the Energy Star power saving modes are engaged properly). Times that by the hundreds or thousands or tens-of-thousands of computers under your charge and you are adding nicely to your company’s bottom line.

The trick is to utilize a computer’s sleep mode instead of its screen saver (which are a old technology hangover anyway since today’s screens don’t burn like the yesteryear’s).

“When the screen-saver comes on it’s causing your computer to work even harder because your engaging your video card to have silly things like your flying toaster or virtual aquarium running. So screen-savers don’t save energy. It’s just the opposite,” said Horowitz.

A little more expensive fix but No.1 on Horowitz’s list is to swap out all your old CRTs and replace them with flat-panel displays. Not only will your employees thank you (their eye doctors may not be so complimentary) but you will cut display-related power consumption by one-half to one-third since newer flat panels only consume about 25 watts to run.

There are network management tools also available that can put equipment into sleep mode after 5 P.M., for example, and still allow IT to update everyone’s virus software later that evening.

“That has a real advance payback and it is real effective at saving energy,” said Horowitz. “So, it’s the next generation of power management.”

Smart surge protectors are also becoming available that either shut off all a computer’s peripheral devices (so long as they are plugged into the surge protector) when the computer is turned off. Some even have occupancy sensors to do this when a room is vacant for a certain amount of time, said Horowitz.