Five tips for low-energy business computing

Energy savings can add up. Brown estimates that Gwinnett Hospital System is already saving between $30,000 and $60,000 a year in electricity costs by replacing about 70% of its CRTs with LCD monitors and using automated power management tools.

4. Slim down the client

As for the desktop, look for equipment that is Energy Star 4.0 compliant. Previous Energy Star ratings looked only at low-power modes, but "with this new version, we're comparing energy use while working," the EPA's Kaplan says. Computers that meet the standard consume 20% to 50% less energy than those that meet previous Energy Star standards, says Kaplan.

Compact PC models, such as Lenovo's ThinkCentre A61e desktop or Dell's Inspiron 531, are more efficient than standard desktops and save space as well as power (the A61e is about the size of a 3-inch-thick notebook binder). Compact PCs may use as little as half the power of a standard desktop, include Energy Star 4.0-mandated high-efficiency power supplies that are at least 80% efficient and include a low-speed fan that reduces noise levels.

Many businesses, including Jenny Craig, are moving to a Terminal Services or Citrix Presentation Server setup, which enables them to use easily managed thin client PCs on the desktop. Thin clients use less power and space, since they have no disk drive or fan, and the Windows session and applications run on the server.

For Jenny Craig, the noise factor was as important as energy savings when choosing Wyse Technology's thin clients. "When you throw 10 or 12 PCs into a front desk, you can't hear your customers anymore," says Alessandra Nicoletti, director of IT operations. So she moved the stores onto a Citrix Presentation Server back end and Java applications, and populated 484 Jenny Craig centers with thin clients from Wyse, which don't need a fan. Operating power consumption ranges from 6 and 35 watts, and power management settings can be locked and remotely managed.

While replacing PCs with thin clients does require adding servers on the back end that boost power requirements, the savings on the desktop more than make up for that, says Jeff McNaught, chief marketing officer at Wyse. With the 64-bit edition of Presentation Server running on the back end, 1,000 PCs can be accommodated on three 800-watt servers. That amounts to about 3 watts per client, he says.

Jenny Craig's system uses 90% less energy than the PCs it replaced. "We see it on the bills [for the centers]," Nicoletti says.

Waghray says thin clients had other benefits in Verizon Wireless' call centers, where equipment density is high and space is at a premium. "We have seen a reduction in cooling needs for the whole building," he says.

For all their energy-saving benefits, thin clients won't work in every case, such as for some graphics or compute-intensive applications. Northrup Grumman Corp.'s space technology sector is rolling out 3,000 thin clients and has tested 39 engineering applications. While most ran just fine, a few graphics-intensive ones didn't work, says Clayton Kau, vice president of engineering.

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."

This story, "Five tips for low-energy business computing" was originally published by Computerworld.

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