MT Expert: How IT can help cut your energy bills

Graham Fern of axon-IT explains how virtual servers can save your business money...

Last Updated: 09 Jul 2013

Microsoft recently conducted a survey on ‘average desktop usage’ and discovered (as you’d expect) that light tasks, such as typing in Word or answering email, comprise the primary use of a computer. However, the second most common ‘task’ is simply being idle! 30% of users leave their PC on at work at the end of the day, while 25% leave it on over the weekend.

Microsoft’s latest solution to this is to use Vista’s power-saving features, whereby the PC enters ‘sleep’ after one hour of inactivity. This has an obvious power-saving benefit. Microsoft hasn’t put any figures to their power management solution, but it’s fair to say that if a computer’s second-biggest task is to sit idle, then setting it to power-save is common sense. Just think of all the power consumed when it’s left on overnight or over a weekend.

But what if you can’t rely on users to set their PCs to go to ‘sleep’ after a set period, or to turn them off when they aren’t needed? Fear not: system administrators can set up automatic systems that force all computers across the company to go to sleep. For instance, there is plenty of software that can automatically shut down PCs on a Friday at 18:00 hrs and turn them on again at 08:00 hrs on Monday morning. How simple is that, and how much power could you save?
There are also power-saving options for your servers – some simple, and some more complicated – if you employ the latest technology.

Physical Servers: Most tier one hardware providers (like Dell, HP, IBM, etc) can provide servers with very efficient power supplies that minimise the consumption of the server, thereby offering a cost-saving benefit. But this pales into insignificance compared to virtualisation...

Virtualisation: This can be a hard technology to grasp if IT isn’t your thing! Basically you buy one or more big physical server(s), and run a number of virtual servers within them. For example, you might buy one big powerful server and then install a virtualisation product like Microsoft’s HyperV or VMware’s ESX – which means that within this one big server you can create virtual servers that don’t physically exist! This produces large power-saving benefits – and no reduction in IT services to the end-user or business. And let’s not forget that your maintenance costs have just dropped too, because you now have just one server to maintain rather than five!

In fact, virtualisation can account for up to a 20-to-1 reduction in hardware. According to IBM, only 30% of the total power used in a server is consumed by the processor – the rest is all consumed by the other electronics. After virtualisation the server power increases by about 20%, but you are also retiring a number of ‘real’ servers. The fans and power supplies will have to work harder, because of the increased power the processor needs to run the virtualisation system, but that is insignificant compared to the power that is being saved. In total, you could be looking at a massive 70% saving.

So you should start by establishing exactly how much power you might save by virtualisation. As long as it’s properly thought through and thoroughly checked, you should be able to save power, money, and even the planet.

Graham Fern is a director of specialist outsourced IT provider axon-IT.  More information on axon-IT can be found at or by calling 0845 313 0025.

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