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January 2, 2009 • Vol.31 Issue 1
Page(s) 18 in print issue

Standby, Hibernate & Power Off
Saving Energy Costs On The Desktop
AT MIDSIZED ENTERPRISES when employees leave for the day, they often leave their computers on so when they return to their workstations, they can instantly pick up where they left off. Although this may be convenient, during nonuse hours the PCs and monitors are still consuming power and emitting heat, in turn requiring environmental cooling. Over time, all that energy use equates into wasted dollars.

According to an October 2008 Forrester Research online survey, 67% of respondents reported they had launched a corporate green initiative in an effort to reduce energy-related operating expenses. “Businesses today are going for quick wins when it comes to reducing energy costs,” points out Christopher Mines, Forrester vice president and lead green IT analyst. That means simple ideas such as turning off unused equipment and instituting power-saving settings on existing equipment.

Starting in June 2007, Energy Star, a joint venture between the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, began rating energy-efficient computer equipment that uses 25 to 60% less power than traditional models. However, it is critical to note that even if computer equipment receives a high Energy Star rating, machines should be set to take advantage of power-saving settings through the operating system in order to achieve maximum power savings.

Built-In Power Settings

With the majority of enterprise desktop PCs running a Microsoft operating system, the capability to customize power settings is included. Through the Windows Control Panel, users can quickly configure Power Options that can reduce or eliminate power usage when the machine becomes idle.

There are a number of items on the desktop that require power—monitor, hard drive, CPU, etc. Within the Windows Power Options Properties in Windows XP, there are both general and granular settings to initiate power savings. For example, users can choose to power off their monitors after being idle anywhere from one minute to five hours. The hard disk has similar settings.

For Windows Vista, the power settings include options for the hard disk, wireless adapter, Sleep mode, USB ports, power buttons and lid, processor, search and indexing, display, multimedia, battery, and graphics.

Users also have the ability to designate and save Power Schemes (WinXP) or Plans (Vista). These allow for different energy conservation settings and are more commonly used for laptops. For instance, Vista offers three default Power Plans—Balanced, Power Saver, and High Performance. For example, a user may designate a Power Saver plan when using a laptop remotely but switch to Balanced when the machine is docked at his desk in the office.

WinXP offers Standby and Hibernate modes that both save the current state and energy when the machine is idle. In Vista, Microsoft combined Standby and Hibernate into a single power-saving state called Sleep.

The EPA recommends setting systems to automatically reduce power consumption after being idle for 30 to 60 minutes.

Make It Happen

For smaller organizations, enabling power-saving settings can be as simple as having IT staff configure each system. For larger organizations, the power-saving features can be controlled via the network through freely available utilities or commercial asset management solutions.

General Electric estimates that it has saved $6.5 million by enabling the computer management features on 75,000 company computers. “It was really a no-brainer,” says Al Werner, IT manager at GE. “Once we justified the savings we could easily achieve without impacting day-to-day operations, management gave us the green light.”

Prior to a company-wide rollout, GE tested to ensure the power management settings would not negatively affect users' productivity and that the settings could be centrally managed. Werner began by first educating the users through the enterprise news portal and via email. After the power-saving settings were activated for 4,800 machines at GE's corporate headquarters, there wasn't a single call to the help desk regarding issues of interference with productivity. As part of its extensive power-saving plan, GE enabled the following settings on their desktops: Monitors were turned off after 15 minutes of inactivity, hard drives were powered down after 30 minutes of being idle, system Standby was enabled after two hours of inactivity, and Hibernation was enabled after three hours of inactivity.

by Sandra Kay Miller

What Is The Difference?

There are four choices when it comes to saving energy on the desktop, each with its own pros and cons.

Standby (aka suspend). The machine is put into a low power mode, and the disk and CPU shut down. When revived, the PC recovers quickly, as the current state is stored in RAM. The operating system does not go through the boot process. Standby is not for long-term use.

Hibernate. The current state of the machine is saved to a file on the hard drive, and the machine draws no power. When revived, the PC takes longer to recover but is returned to the original state. The operating system does not go through the boot process. Hibernation is for long-term use.

Shut Down. The machine is completely shut down, and the current state is not saved. When power is restored, the operating system must go through the boot process. Shut Down is for long-term use.

Sleep. Available in Vista, Sleep mode is a combination of Standby and Hibernate that shuts down the computer while preserving all open windows, documents, and programs. Everything is completely shut down except minimal power to the CPU and RAM, allowing the user to resume almost instantly. Sleep mode can be used for both short periods of time and long-term use.

Looking Ahead

PCs will continue to serve as the primary method for desktop computing; however, many enterprises are starting to make the switch to thin-client technologies to add to their overall savings.

• Consider that desktop computers use as much as 280 watts of energy, while thin clients utilize approximately 30 watts. An enterprise replacing a thousand desktops with thin clients could reap a nearly 90% reduction in energy costs.

• Thin clients do not have moving parts or fans, so they last longer. Gartner Research estimates that the average MTBF of thin-client hardware is 175,000 hours, as opposed to 25,000 hours with traditional desktop machines, making their overall return on investment much more appealing.

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