Cutting costs and streamlining processes are all in a day's work for IT solution providers. WIndows 8 will debut later in 2012, with improved power and patch management. 1E founder and CEO Sumir Karayi discusses how VARs can help companies become more energy efficient — and parlay that into a greener bottomline.— Jennifer Bosavage, editor
When it is released later this year, Windows 8 will tweak its power and patch management capabilities but built-in power schemes are not enough. We’ve learned effective ways to save time and energy, saving our customers more than $550 million in energy costs and prevented 4.5 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere to date. Here are our seven golden rules of power and patch management:
1. Measurement is key.
Measure not just how much energy is being used, but what it is used for. It is not possible to monitor and report on the energy used by your PC estate (and therefore the cost and CO2 emissions this causes) using only the built-in tools that come with Windows. Organizations need to identify PCs that are left on unnecessarily after office hours and on weekends and shut them down to prevent unnecessary power usage. In addition, there is a growing need for sophisticated reporting capabilities that let you make energy consumption calculations specific to the exact make and model of a PC or Mac, and also take into account energy tariffs specific to your geographical location and energy provider.
2. Understand your user.
PC power management should not disrupt end users. The PC needs to be available for use immediately whenever the end user needs it. Attempts to save energy must never happen at the expense of the user and must always be sensitive to the processes that they are running. Suspending background applications in order to save battery power, as proposed by built-in power schemes, may seem like a good idea on the surface, but what if that application is critical to what a user is doing at that particular time? A user’s workload must come first. A “zero disruption” policy is the key to success here.
3. Avoid data loss.
If the PC is forced to shut down when a user has unsaved data in any application, then that data will be lost. Applications do not automatically save data when informed by the operating system that the PC is being shut down. If the PC is powered down when an application has a document open from a network location, when it resumes the PC still thinks it has an open connection to the document, but the server has long since timed out and closed the network session.
Some applications get around this issue by creating a local temporary file with the changes and then update the network file on a save operation only, but many applications can lose data, or even crash, when resuming from a low power mode. Make sure your organization’s power management solution offers the ability to automatically save documents before powering down.
4. Built-in power scheme sleep timers are only partially effective.
Given the choice, almost half of end users turn off power-scheme-based sleep timers because they get in the way of their working day. What’s more, when they are enabled, built-in power scheme sleep timers are only partially effective at saving energy and therefore cost. Many PCs do not go to sleep when they should (sleeplessness) and some wake up when they shouldn’t (spurious wakeups), with the result that only 20% of PCs using Windows sleep timers actually go to sleep and stay that way overnight and on weekends.
Windows power schemes – yes, even those expected in Windows 8 – are not enough. Scheduled, intelligent power downs have proven to be much more effective than built-in power schemes. For example, our own PC power management solution is proven to save our customers $39.05 and reduces carbon emissions by more than half a ton of CO2 per PC per year on average.
5. Power downs require more than idle timers.
The standard paradigm for built-in power management is to use idle timers. These timers kick in when a power-related event – like putting the monitor into a standby state, spinning down the hard disk or putting the PC into a low power state – occurs.
Some operating systems include the ability to schedule a power down event to occur, however Windows 7 does not have this native capability and neither will Windows 8. More to the point, where a scheduled power down event is supported directly by the OS, it relies on the system being in a state where a power down will succeed without user intervention. Some users will manually power down their PCs at the end of the day, but this cannot be relied upon. This is where the scheduled shut down is key.
6. Don’t prevent IT from doing its job.
PC power management should not adversely affect the ability of the IT department to maintain the PC fleet. IT will always need to make sure that PCs are healthy and patch them as required.
The only supported mechanism for patching built into the operating system is Windows Update. This can be used in conjunction with the Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) product to force the PC to wake overnight to patch itself, but this only works if the machine is powered down, not shut down, and only for patches released by Microsoft (not third-party applications).
It is largely anticipated that Windows 8 will aim to reduce patch rebooting. We are told that on-the-desktop notifications will disappear in favor of a message on the log-in screen that persists for three days. If a user doesn't select a restart at the log-in screen after three days, Windows 8 will force a reboot, which could potentially lose data. Minimizing the disruptiveness of restarts in the course of automatic updating is a good thing, but forcing a reboot is another matter.
Scheduling a maintenance update during off hours using Wake-on-LAN technology – combined with Computer Health technology to ensure that PCs are always in a fit state to be patched – is still the quickest way to ensure that patches are delivered to PCs safely and securely without disrupting the user. Your organization should also have a solution in place that provides shut down scripts for third-party solutions to save any open documents and prevent data loss before powering down.
With the upcoming release of Windows 8, IT administrators keen to stay in control of patching need to be able to set a group policy that sidesteps automatic rebooting within the operating system.
7. Better together: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Companies like Microsoft are taking great strides to improve built-in power management capabilities. This is a huge win for corporate sustainability efforts and for our environment. However, to get the most value and efficiency from PC power management initiatives, organizations need to make sure their initiative incorporates the seven golden rules. One way to make sure you get the best possible combination is to take advantage of close partnerships, like the one between 1E and Microsoft. Microsoft has continually lauded our power and patch management capabilities as “best-of-breed,” and we work together to provide a powerful combination of automation, reduced infrastructure and power management. This offers organizations a deeper insight into their operations and drives efficiencies across physical and virtual IT environments. Don’t rely on built-in capabilities – put the proper tools in place to make the most impact on your environmental stewardship efforts and your bottom line.