Kissing the Frog

Kermit’s a liar. You can’t trust a frog (and any princess worth her salt could tell you that). It’s easy being green, at least a pale sort of green.

Lying frogs aside, I can finally answer the pesky perennial question, that question that’s troubled techie types for the last decade or two. That question: Should you turn your PC off at night or over the weekend?

If you’ve been in with the IT crowd, the answer to this question has always been a hearty “Nope!” (No kisses, no frogs, no princesses.) Leave them on. (Go away.)

Enterprise-wise, you see, we need those beasts on and working; even at home, you’re screwed if you don’t let them have their way. It’s the updates you see. Miss an update and the zombies come calling.

If you turn your PC off… well, then all those nice automated things don’t get done — important things, like updates, and bug patches, and virus signatures, and disk defragging, and other gobbledygook sort of technical things. They’re necessary, unfortunately. They’re important.

When confronted, I typically explain the simple trade-offs: It’s a choice between “leave them on” or you’ll be responsible for immanentizing the eschaton, triggering the inevitable zombie apocalypse or another Republican administration — to some, no doubt, one in the same.

Moreover, you’ll suffer! If your PC is off at night; well then, all those pesky updates will have to run while you are actually trying to work, trying to finish your radically over-due dissertation about Romance in America: The Myths of the Frog Prince, or trying to put those ever-so-important final touches on your resume, or, perhaps you’re writing the great-American-time-travel novel about relativity and love across the space-time continuum. Whatever it is, it’s important stuff all, right?

Between you and me and the blue screen, there is no need to tempt the fates by actually choosing to run the automated Windows Update and Crash system while trying to actually use the PC. To do that is foolish; to do that tempts fate.

If you’re going to do that, you might as well just stop now, randomly delete the first ten files you find that end with “DLL,” slide a Kraft single into the DVD drive, and pound your head directly on the keyboard for twenty minutes. It’s easier, tastier, more entertaining to your co-workers, and, in the end, will have much the same effect on your PC. Don’t forget to un-wrap the cheese first.

(Hey,Mac-head: don’t get smug, bozo. It happens to Mac’s too. Remember, it ain’t the machine, it ain’t the manufacturer, and it ain’t the OS. It’s the universe that’s laughing at you — and the universe is OS-agnostic. Although I have heard that Mac’s will actually read a properly formatted Kraft single.)

The counter argument to all this is, of course, wasteful energy consumption — the collective impact off all those PCs and laptops leaving huge Al Gore-sized, carbon footprints all over the global rug; wastefully burning up the world, leaving us to play frog in the global green house’s boiling pot of water, not noticing that it’s getting kinda warm and wet.

It just doesn’t feel “right,” leaving all these machines humming all the time. There are more and more and more every day. It just ain’t right, right?

So, hold on to your frogs— now there’s a better answer. The answer is still “nope.” But now, the answer is “nope, but…”

Now you can leave them on “smartly,” a princely green; leave ‘em on, tuned to the heavenly sixty cycles of sun and moon and automated software-tuned power efficiency.

The answer to all this is smart, power management software. It’s all about real-time fine-tuning — my third force, the move from sampling to monitoring — has found a terrific home in Green IT. It’s time to kiss the frog.

It’s about time: It’s a fracking computer after all. It should be able to tune itself, start itself up, do what needs to be done, and then gently fall to sleep.

Previous power management was pretty stupid — essentially offering two choices — asleep or awake; governed by a timeout. Not all answers are binary, and — at least in my case — the needs varied by time of day and day of the week. I needed the pesky PC’s perky during the day, and wanted them to embrace their lethargy the rest of the time. Life is not static. All in all, my goals are simple:

  • Maximize energy savings and minimize user grumbling
  • Be smart yet cheap about it
  • Make it easy to set up and manage

The solution is a relatively unique software and management service. The software is called “Surveyor” — it’s made by Verdiem. Centrally managed and administered, it lets us tune the power management, by time of day, by day of the week, of individual PCs across our network. It even lets us do periodic “wake-up calls” to check for those required zombie updates, and to minimize the end-user grumble factor.

With Surveyor running, you still need to leave the PCs on— but now you’ve got the ability to twiddle and tweak the power management scheme, on the fly, to suit the time of day and the needs of the office. Now, they’re on when needed, up and responsive during working hours and asleep when they’re not needed, blissfully dreaming robotic dreams of world domination or plotting to kill Sarah Connors.

Workday Settings

Evening / Weekend Settings

Turn off the display / Lock = 20 Minutes

Put computer to sleep = 75 minutes

Turn off the display / Lock = 5 Minutes

Put computer to sleep = 5 minutes

 

Power profiles can be changed on the fly. We set up two, one for the “Workday” (basically 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM) and another for evenings, nights and weekends.

010510_0036_KissingtheF1.png

Then, we got fancy — modifying the power settings on the fly to maximize the so-called “user experience” (or minimize the grumbling) and to minimize our carbon footprints. It was item two — the user grumbling — that took some fancy footwork with the scheduling.

We solved that with a couple of what I call “wake up calls” — essentially the system automatically sends out the magic “wake-on-LAN” packet to wake the machine up. It does it once at 8:00 AM so that those early to work are greeted by a wide-awake PC; once again at 9:00 AM so that the late arrivals also get a wide-awake PC. The 75-minute Workday timeout covers lunch.

Off-hours we get aggressive, switching promptly at 5:30 to the shorter timeouts, effectively putting all the un-used PC’s to sleep by 5:35 PM. We wake them all at 3:00 AM to process any pending updates — if there’s nothing to do, they’re back to sleep by 3:05 AM.

I’m a skeptic. So I metered it. The promised to save money, to knock tens of dollars off my electric bill for each PC, and to be green, seemed too good to be true.

And so, armed with my trusty “Kill-a-Watt,” the results convinced me. For a 24-hour period, the software dropped the power consumption of a typical workstation from 1.28 KWh in 24 hours, to about .62 KWh (with average usage), resulting in an estimated annual savings per PC of a little more than $20.

Savings Analysis – 24 hour consumption

KWh

Used

KWh

Cost

Daily

Cost

Annual

Cost/PC

Dell 170L – without power management

1.28

$0.12 $0.1536 $40.70
Dell 170L – with power management

0.62

$0.12 $0.0744 $19.72

 

Even given the software costs (about $15 for the first year and $2/year thereafter), there’s a net savings of $5 per PC in the first year, with around $18 in subsequent years. For 100+ PC’s that’s real green. Besides, it’s worth it to unmask Kermit’s perfidy. Go ahead, kiss that frog. It’s easy.

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3 comments to Kissing the Frog

  • Gavin, It is time to add to this blog. Have you started another one without telling us? Just pull one of your half-finished ones out of the drawer and see, like Mark Twain, whether it wants to finish itself or not. You’ll be surprised how many of them in there are clambering to get DONE, and are willing to do most the work themselves. Get on it now!

  • This particular blog is quite great, keep creating great material.

  • I would suggest that if you do decide to leave it on, participate in volunteer distributed grid computing a la BOINC, Grid Republic, Progress for Processors, World Community Grid, etc. A lot of medical research numbers to be crunched…

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