By Mark Henricks
Business PC users still aren't reliably hitting the off button before hitting the door, costing employers billions of dollars in electricity and frustrating attempts to harness one of the simplest and most effective green IT solutions.
A recent survey's report that nearly half of U.S. employees with a computer at work don't consistently turn machines off when done echo a previous study and suggest that a remedy will take more than writing corporate policies and conducting employee education efforts.
The surveys in question were both commissioned by makers of enterprise PC auto-shutdown software, so it would be surprising if their findings pointed at something else. But they are at least consistent. The latest, a January poll conducted by Harris Interactive for Persystent Software of Tampa, found 45 percent of employees didn't flip the switch on their PCs when quitting time rolled around. A similar 2008 study, also by Harris but paid for by a different PC power management software provider, U.K.-based 1E, reported exactly half of employees weren't shutting down when they clocked out.
While an improvement from 50 percent to 45 percent may sound like progress, it would be simple and cost-effective to do much better. And the best solution is probably enterprise-wide PC shutdown, coupled with relevant policies and required employee education. The opportunity, simply put, is too rich to be trifled with. It's well worth making an effort to grab as much of this low-hanging environmental savings fruit as you can gather.
The numbers practically compel. To start with, PCs are a good place to start. Some 39 percent of information technology energy use is consumed by PCs and monitors. The easiest place to whack some of that consumption is nights and weekends, when millions of PCs are humming away in front of empty chairs. Shutting down one PC at night and on weekends saves an average of $100 in energy per year at prevailing U.S. electricity costs, Persystent says.
And that's just the beginning of the benefits. For one thing, many utilities offer rebates to customers with energy management systems. PCs tend to last longer when they're not powered on all night. Security may improve because, obviously, it's difficult to hack a PC that's turned off. Once you get some results to point at, your corporate image will take on a new shine, and employee engagement is also likely to rise. Finally, your corporate carbon footprint will decline, which could generate valuable credits should a cap-and-trade system ever come into being.
Between you and these rewards lies a surprisingly small and flimsy set of obstacles. Understanding is one barrier. Many employees don't turn off their PCs, the studies found, because of a belief that screensavers or power-management schemes that put machines into sleep mode work as well. They don't. Screensavers, in fact, may even increase energy use. Some corporations draft energy-management policies and consider the job done. But deadlines, forgetfulness and other human frailties keep employees from consistently following the guidelines.
Enterprise software that allows IT managers to choose when to shut down which PCs clearly offers a superior solution. That isn't to say there are no costs or limits to the benefits. For instance, employees can't access files on their office machines from home when the office PC has no power. Off-peak software updating is also complicated when PCs are turned off. However, there are ways around these impasses, because what enterprise automated shutdown software can turn off, it can also leave on, as needed.
Best of all, little or none of this is theoretical. Enterprise PC shutdown software has proven itself in a variety of corporate and government real-world applications. Persystent points to Seminole Community College, in Sanford, Fla., which gave its PC power policy teeth with a Persystent-developed automated shutdown solution. By switching off about 1,000 PCs a night, the institution saved an estimated $65,000 a year in electricity. The savings paid for an additional instructor. The experience provides a valuable lesson for companies that would embrace Green IT.
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