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June 2019
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Reducing energy usage across IT

Organisations of all sizes are being affected by rising costs and constrained budgets. While some commentators are seeing potential for recovery on the horizon, most businesses are still battening down the hatches and looking to make cost savings where they can.

With energy prices likely to rise and the government asserting greater pressure on the public and private sector to reduce carbon emissions with the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, one issue that is set to take centre stage on the business agenda is power management. But where in the business can financial executives look to make immediate savings and long-term improvements? One key area is IT.

IT is one of the biggest consumers of electricity within a business and unless policies are in place to reduce use, this is one area that could see a steady increase in consumption. The resource needed to power and deliver on demand services and rich web and multimedia applications is increasing, as are the capabilities required to store and manage the burgeoning amount of data that is being created. The use of personal computers within most organisations is widespread to provide access to services that employees, customers and partners have come to expect.

However, the always-on culture that is emerging has little regard for the consequences on cost and carbon emissions in accessing those services. Powering desktop computers that are on all the time when you have hundreds, if not thousands, of machines has serious cost and carbon implications. The average desktop uses 111 Watts of power when active according to the EnergyStar and US Environmental Protection Agency figures, with monitors responsible for 60% of the energy consumed. So what can be done to combat the energy efficiency challenge of IT deployment?

IT breaks down into two main areas: the servers, storage and networking equipment that makes up the back-end infrastructure, and the desktop estate that individuals use every day. The back-end data centre is already being targeted by IT for energy savings: technologies such as virtualisation and blade servers are being used to reduce the number of physical machines required to support the business, as well as cutting the amount of power consumed in the delivery of applications. Advances in server design and cooling systems are also helping organisations to reduce the amount of power that is used.

On the desktop side, technology exists that can control and automate the powering down of large numbers of machines when not in use or at specific times of the day. This is an area where simple steps can really make a big difference to energy bills and emission counts, however most companies do not have a desktop power management strategy in place. This could be down to some pre-conceptions around desktop power management that have to be overcome.

According to a world-wide survey carried out by Dimensional Research, the biggest inhibitors to deploying desktop power management are the IT department requiring late-night access to machines for security patching and updates to be applied (43 percent). The second largest reason was users not wanting their machines to be turned off without their knowledge (34 percent). Other reasons that were given included the potential impact on productivity from end-users, lack of awareness of solutions and the fact that savings were not represented in the IT budget so there was no impetus to do anything proactive.

One approach that can reduce power usage at the desktop level is to put a policy in place for users to turn off their machines in the evening when they leave the office. This can encourage power saving activities within the workplace, but unfortunately it means that there is no real way to measure what savings (if any) are being generated.

From a technology perspective, solutions are available that can reduce energy spending while also making sure that policies are followed. The use of Wake-on-LAN, as well as the ability to schedule patching and updates to be applied remotely, means that one of the largest objections to desktop power management from the IT department can be discounted. IT can also work with user groups to install new work practices and agree that all files should be saved and closed before staff depart for the evening. This change management strategy can also help to educate users on the reasons behind the new policy, getting their buy-in and making the change more likely to stick. It can also tie into other facilities management approaches aimed at saving power.

The amount of power that a desktop uses may seem small compared to the overall energy consumption of a data centre, but the sheer number of desktops that can be involved means that any investment in desktop power management can create significant savings for the company, on top of any carbon reduction results.

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