How to Save Money by Automating CPU Power Cycles

Spokane, Wash., is reaping the rewards of a power-saving strategy deployed across city-owned technology assets.

by / July 9, 2012

A software tool that automates CPU power cycles is helping Spokane, Wash., reduce its carbon footprint and bolster its bottom line.

Called Verdiem Surveyor, the program was deployed in 2010 across city-owned technology assets located in 60 buildings throughout Spokane. The software enabled IT staff to program groups of PCs to power down and wake up at certain times, instead of having to set up each individual machine. The change resulted in a first-year savings of approximately $15,000 in energy costs and a 34 percent reduction of energy consumption.

Michael Sloon, director of management information systems for Spokane, said the push for IT power management was spurred in 2009 by Spokane’s Being Green initiative. Avista, a utilities provider in Spokane, enticed the city with a reimbursement program for organizations that use and report results from PC power management tools.

After an initial trial period, Sloon spearheaded the move to Surveyor, which he said allowed his staff to control device power consumption in a cost-effective manner that required little staff interaction with end-user equipment.

“We could address [power savings] at individual computers, but we have 1,500 PCs and another couple hundred mobile devices, so for us to have staff time to connect and go to these locations, that’s just not feasible,” Sloon said. “You’re spending a dollar to chase a dime.”

Sloon described the software from Verdiem as an “enterprise push,” where he can set policies and rules for groups of machines and push it out on the network digitally. So in addition to the financial and environmental savings from the software, Spokane’s IT department is being used more efficiently in other areas.

Deployment Strategy

During the first 30 days of using the program, Sloon’s team of IT personnel split Spokane’s network devices into nine groups that could be managed from Surveyor’s dashboard. Depending on what department a person works in, different power-up and power-down times were initiated to best fit the general schedule of those personnel.

He explained that the focus was on devices that had a permanent residence or long-lived residence at one location.

For example, Sloon’s primary device is a tablet PC. The only time he moves the tablet from its docking station is when he has to go to a meeting. He considers it a stationary device, so he programmed its power management cycle accordingly based on his general workday.

On the other hand, Sloon felt that assigning power management times to mobile devices — such as laptops used by Spokane police officers and city inspectors — wasn’t worth the effort.

“We didn’t apply it to all mobile devices because … the users typically power up and power down most devices when they are traveling,” Sloon said. “We have city inspectors and police, and they’re in and out and those machines are on and off. They don’t keep them on 24/7 just by the design of their work.” It made no sense to manage those in a standardized window.

Other Benefits

In addition to the financial and environmental savings, the power management solution also provides various practical benefits for Spokane employees.

If someone is working late on a computer being managed by Surveyor, the power management cycle won’t engage. Instead, it recognizes that a person is still using the device and won’t start until the computer has been idle for a set period of time. The machine also can be awakened from the power-saving cycle by a simple mouse-over.

The power management software also doesn’t interrupt the work Spokane’s IT staff must do to ensure that the city’s computers are running efficiently.

Sloon explained that since PCs have power going through them even during a sleep cycle, he and his staff can push out software and security updates in a process called “Wake-on-LAN” with the help of the Verdiem program.

“Verdiem will start the machine up for us so we can, as administrators, load the patch. Then it will shut it back down,” Sloon said. “It’s very handy. Because that way we’re doing, in essence, what we call offline activity. … So we can manage and push these critical software updates without impeding or impacting our customers’ use of the device.”

Use of the software is predicated on an annual maintenance contract. It costs Spokane about $2,800 annually. Sloon said that as mobile devices and remote working become more common in the city, it’ll eventually eliminate the underlying premise for why Spokane needed Verdiem in the first place.

As that shift happens, less power will be consumed by stationary, city-owned network devices. Spokane should need fewer licenses for the software. For now, however, the program is still helping the city save money and promote sustainability.

“For right now, it’s still targeted as a viable product,” Sloon said of Surveyor. “The latest report I ran, we’re still seeing energy reduction of 29.4 percent, based on 1,273 PCs. [It’s] estimating a $12,000 energy savings.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.