Several agencies say power management is paying off

EPA, Energy and a DOD office are among those reporting lower energy use

For many agencies, reducing power consumption in data centers and information technology facilities can be a challenge, depending on their computing environments.

However, several agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, the Defense Department's Office of Personnel and Readiness Information Management and the Energy Department are achieving or anticipating significant gains, according to panel members Tuesday at the Virtualization, Cloud Computing and Green IT Summit held in Washington. The summit is sponsored by 1105 Government Information Group, the parent company to Government Computer News.

Speaking during a session on Federal Sustainability Success Stories, representatives from the various agencies described how their organizations achieved energy efficiency and green IT by implementing EPA’s Federal Electronic Challenges Life Cycle Management strategy, which covers procurement, operations and maintenance and end-of-ife aspects of computer equipment.

As a small office with 170 people, officials with DOD’s Office of Personnel and Readiness within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, studied how they might reduce energy consumption, said Johnny Lopez, chief of the Office of Personnel and Readiness’ IT division.

Lopez said the division deployed Ipswitch’s WhatsUp Gold network management device, which can monitor energy readings on computer workstations. They ran their devices through three different scenarios: They left the workstations running 24/7, then tried shutting down peripheral equipment such as speakers and printers but kept the CPUs running on weekdays for refreshes and patching, and, finally,tried shutting everything down at night, which proved to be problematic because of patching requirements.

The WhatsUp tool provides charts and graphs and helped them measure how much power was being used over time and they were able to decide which the best option for their office was, Lopez said.

Lopez’s office now requires personnel to shut off all peripheral equipment every night, keep CPUs running week nights for patching and shut them down on the weekend.

“We took [WhatsUp] and put it on a variety of different appliances and essentially cut power consumption by 13 percent,” Lopez said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot, but that is equivalent of 9 metric tons of carbon produced over the course of a year,” Lopez said.

Power management is probably the most difficult challenge that the Energy Department faces, but also the most important, said Jeff Egan, Electronics Stewardship Coordinator with DOE’s Office of Environmental Policy and Assistance.

DOE used the Federal Electronic Challenge’s Electronics Benefits Calculator to determine that 80 percent of the agency’s gains in power reduction can be attributed to its power management efforts.

“Power management is directly affecting our bottom line as well as our environmental contribution,” Egan said.

To achieve its power reduction goals, DOE realized it had to better manage CPUs. Various DOE sites and labs are using standard software to manage servers. IT can manage workstations remotely to patch and repair, wake up and put computers to sleep, he said.

An informal survey conducted by officials at DOE headquarters, revealed that 86 to 89 percent of staff is volunteering to shut down their desktop computers at night, he noted. Policy is also in place to enforce compliance. If workers are online at 6:45 p.m., for example, they’ll get an e-mail asking if they are still working. If not, the computer will be turned off, he noted.

“Some of the happiest people are the cyber security folks,” Egan said, describing the current arrangement. Initially, he wasn’t sure they would be on his side. “Turns out they are some of our best advocates. Why? Because a computer that switches off is a safer computer,” Egan said. With a real power management program, computers should be turned off 65 percent of the time.

Federal data centers managers should consider talking to their cyber security people.

They will be helpful allies in helping people in IT walk the talk concerning power management, he said.

The EPA is pushing out a software program across the entire agency that will manage power management and security settings for the computers monitors, putting them to sleep when necessary, said Cate Berard, program manager with EPA’s Federal Electronics Challenge.

Prior to this approach, each EPA office handled power management incrementally. That approached proved too difficult, she said. The new software will make life easier for users and at the same time help facilities achieve energy savings, Berard said.

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