In 2010, an eWEEK survey of CIOs found that 40% of respondents said that turning PCs off every night would be the most important thing they could do to reduce their organizations’ carbon footprints.
Around 25% of respondents said the data center was the best place to shrink carbon footprints.
But within a couple of years, “green IT” lost some of its momentum. Innovation in the field slowed, and companies devoted to helping companies have more environmentally friendly IT infrastructure started diversifying. According to Peter Judge, editor of TechWeekEurope, the recession was simply too big a factor for green initiatives to overcome. Why make “green” investments without obvious payback when your company is focused on plain survival?
It’s possible, however, to get carried away with energy saving measures.
Moreover, though the IT department may be responsible for data center electricity, typically facilities management is in charge of power used for employee desktop PCs. There ended up being little incentive to worry about making IT greener. But PC power management is still relevant, despite many changes in the workplace since the depths of the recession.
Good News: Increased Laptop Use Is Helping
As the recession ground on, PCs still wore out, but many of them were replaced with laptops, which use much less power. A report in The Guardian in October 2009 reported that July 2005 was when laptop sales first exceeded desktop sales, and by the second quarter of 2006, the switch was a full-on trend. By the time the article was published, nearly three of every four computers sold were laptops. Laptops use up to 80% less electricity than desktops, so the simple act of replacing desktops with laptops as they wore out cut power usage considerably. This made PC power management less pressing an issue.
The Cloud Helps Too
A lot of power management issues have gone away with the shift to the cloud in recent years. In June 2013, a study from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory stated that businesses could reduce power consumption by an astounding 87% by moving email, productivity, and CRM to the cloud. But you have to consider that data centers themselves are growing rapidly and consuming a lot of electricity, and somebody has to pay for it. The good news is that although data center power use is continuing to increase, data center computational levels are increasing at a faster rate.
Fun fact: many superheroes are now cloud-hosted due to cost savings.
But There Are Still Plenty of Desktop PCs
Organizations may be buying more laptops (and tablets and other portable devices), but there are still plenty of desktop PCs in use – enough that PC power management could still make a big difference in some organizations. In 2010, UK banking giant HSBC saved more than a million dollars in energy costs with PC power management that shut down 300,000 of the company’s PCs overnight and on weekends. It has since expanded the power management to more of its offices in the 88 countries in which it operates. They did it by committing to a “ruthless standardization” policy that deployed a single Windows image to all desktops and establishing uniform settings that included the overnight shutdown policy.
Lloyds Banking Group rolled out PC power management from the third quarter of 2013 through the first quarter of 2014, and over eight months saved $3.7 million in electricity costs. The savings represented 9.8 million kg of carbon dioxide kept out of the air, or the equivalent of 1.1 million gallons of petroleum products going unused.
Such changes aren’t as simple as making a new policy, however. Lloyds described a cultural change that had to happen to make the program work. People were worried that shutting down desktops overnight would disrupt overnight deployment of patches and upgrades. But the company was able to use software that could “wake up” desktops when it was time to receive updates and patches without user intervention.
PC power management may not be as big a deal as it was five years ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. For many companies, the cost of implementing power management software is still significantly outweighed by savings in electricity costs. The shift to laptops, the movement of more operations to the cloud, and the increase in mobile devices have brought down power costs on their own, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement for companies that want to shrink their environmental footprints.