In many companies, Windows workstations are left on 24 x 7 so that systems administrators can install patches and perform other desktop-management tasks during off-hours. But with rising energy costs and the push for environment-friendly practices, companies are beginning to rethink that strategy, especially in light of advances in power-management solutions.

One way companies can reduce their energy bills is to use Windows' built-in power-management features, such as system standby and hibernate, in conjunction with Wake on LAN (WOL). The standby and hibernate modes put computers to sleep when they're inactive, and WOL wakes them up when desktop-management tasks (e.g., software updates) are launched manually.

In standby mode (work is in memory and isn't saved in the event of power loss) and hibernate mode (work is saved if power is lost), the desktop computer and monitor use only 1 to 3 watts each. In contrast, fully powered desktop computers typically use about 65 watts and monitors use from 35 watts (LCDs) to 80 watts (CRTs). According to ENERGY STAR, using standby or hibernate mode cuts the electricity used by computers roughly in half, saving $25 to $75 per computer annually. The EPA recommends setting computers to enter standby or hibernate mode after 30–60 minutes of inactivity.

Although standby and hibernate functionality has been in existence for quite some time, companies have been slow to take advantage of it. One likely reason for the resistance is that an administrator can't centrally control these power-management settings through the registry or Group Policy in Windows XP and Windows 2000. Only Windows Vista lets you use Group Policy to centrally manage these settings.

For those still using earlier OSs, several third-party power-management solutions are available, such as ENERGY STAR's EZ GPO, Verdiem's SURVEYOR 5.0, and Faronics' Power Save 2.0. EZ GPO is a basic but free utility that provides Group Policy Objects (GPOs) for centrally configuring power management settings. SURVEYOR is feature-rich, high-end software that lets you centrally control power-management features and schedule software updates on workstations running Windows 95 or a later version of Windows. Power Save, a relative newcomer in the computer power-management market, positions itself between the two.

According to Dheeraj Mahtani, communications specialist at Faronics, Power Save is the first power-management solution that analyzes keyboard and mouse activity, CPU and disk utilization, and application activity to determine when computers are inactive. When creating an inactivity definition, admins can select which measures to analyze and provide specifics about those measures. For example, you can create a definition that says a computer is inactive when the mouse and keyboard aren't being used, CPU utilization is less than 25 percent, and Microsoft Outlook isn't running. "The customized definitions allow Power Save to accurately judge when a computer is and isn't in use," explains Mahtani. “Administrators can then configure Power Save to stand by, hibernate, or shut down the system or turn off the monitor when the conditions in the inactivity definition are met.” The free Faronics Core Console utility lets administrators centrally manage Power Save at an enterprise level.

Both Power Save and SURVEYOR can generate reports showing energy consumption and the associated cost savings of using the power-management solution. Companies can use this information to help determine the ROI. At $14.14 per client license for corporate and government organizations, Faronics estimates that the ROI for Power Save is 8 months. Verdiem estimates that SURVEYOR pays for itself in less than 18 months.

North American companies can achieve ROI even faster by taking advantage of rebate and incentive programs offered by some energy utilities. For example, Pacific Gas and Electric offers a $15 rebate for every networked PC that's licensed with power-management software, and BC Hydro offers a $6 rebate for every PC licensed with Power Save, SURVEYOR, or other approved power-management software package.