Can you power down for a day? Intel, HP and Citrix make the case

Power IT Down Day challenges the industry to shut off its IT equipment after work on August 27. If we can do it for one night, we can do it for two. Or 10. Or 365. Right?

Other than restarting my MacBook now and then for software updates, I don't think I've turned it off since 2008.

But while I may be on the green police's most wanted list, it's never too late to start good habits. (I'll be starting mine this week.)

Friday, Aug. 27 is the third annual Power IT Down Day. Last year 5,600 people pledged to turn off their computers, printers and monitors overnight, which saved more than 73,000 kilowatt-hours, which translated into $45,000, which was in turn donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Considering how many of us can survive the night without our hardware, 5,600 seems like a pretty small number. Can't we do better this year? (To make your own power-down pledge, click here.)

I recently spoke with representatives from three of the companies sponsoring Power IT Down Day -- Intel, HP and Citrix Systems -- about how the companies are themselves powering down, and why people need to understand the difference between "standby," "sleep" and "off."

Nigel Ballard, Director of Federal Marketing, Intel Americas:

We [power down] more because we have a technology called vPro which means you never need to leave a computer turned on at night.

It was introduced four years ago, because there are still a ton of enterprises where the computers say, "Do not turn this machine off at night" for just one reason: in case [the] IT [department] has to issue a patch.

It struck us at Intel as a crazy way to carry on, leaving hundreds of machines on at night just on the chance that there might be something coming through. With vPro, not only are they turned off at night, but they can be powered up remotely to have the software patched. All it takes is the IT administrator -- who could be 3,000 miles away -- taking up the vPro machines, issuing a patch, getting each one to confirm that it was successful and then powering down, all without lifting his bum off the seat.

So nobody at Intel leaves their computers on at night, and we'd like to see others doing the same thing. It makes sense ecologically, but also for security. It's a little insecure leaving a room of 100 machines on, when cleaning contractors are coming in a few hours later.

It's something everyone can do. "Standby" does not mean off. Lots of people in America seem to think when you put something on standby, it’s all good because it’s not consuming anything. But it's still consuming 10 percent of the energy. That's why the European community is outlawing the standby function.

I like Power IT Down Day because it's speaking to individuals. It's like smoking: On this one day, just don't smoke, and if you can do that, you can probably do it for the day after that. We're trying to get people to get in good habits.

John Sindelar, Client Industry Executive, HP Enterprise Services:

I'm not that old, but I equate Power IT Down Day to the bond effort in World War II -- a constant effort to encourage people to buy bonds and help the war effort.

You have to keep messaging and educating people around doing these things. Education includes asking people not to use screensavers. When it looks like the computer is sleeping -- which is what my wife does -- it still uses 28 percent of the energy as it does when it's on.

With the advent of the executive order that was issued by President Obama in October (The GreenGov Challenge --Ed.), I've been focused on sustainability. Since the founding of the company in 1957, Hewlett-Packard has invested in sustainability from the beginning. Starting in 1992 we formally kicked off "Design for the Environment," where we build it into the product.

From an HP standpoint, we've found it's good businesses to be sustainable in your operations. One way to do that is to consolidate data centers, virtualize your servers. This can also save you a bundle of money. Power and cooling is 70 percent of operating costs in a data center. And we walk the talk and do it for our own data centers. We downsized from 85 data centers to six for our internal support over a three-year period, and including real estate, we save about $1 billion a year annually.

David Smith, Chief Technology Officer, Citrix Public Sector:

We regularly talk about green IT within the company, and internally, we promote this. On the weekends, we turn the AC off, so if the computers aren't turned off, you can imagine how hot it gets in there. So we're trying to promote green, but also, our virtualization technologies, which can manage, update applications and desktops without turning the computers on.

It's about getting out of a habit. Some folks say they'd rather keep it on than wait for it to power up in the morning. But we estimate a computer and monitor will use about 13 kilowatt-hours per night.  This year the day falls on a Friday, so you have the weekend effect, and that's 55 kilowatts saved for the weekend.

If we meet our goal of 6,100 participants this year, we could save more than 335,000 kilowatt hours (An energy savings of about $45,000. --Ed.) We encourage people to do this more than one day a year.

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