Next month’s carbon tax will cost Australian education institutions upwards of $50m a year (see ‘How the carbon tax will affect education’), and that’s money that won’t be easy to find. But the issue of managing energy usage isn’t unique to education – so what can be learnt from other industries? Our own internal IT team have just finished a case study that will be useful

Reducing computer power usage by a third

Microsoft has a pretty large computer fleet – including over 165,000 desktop and laptop computers – and since 2010 we have been looking at how we can manage the power consumption of all of these devices more effectively, without inconveniencing users. The process starts with procurement, where all new computers must meet four energy and environmental standards to get onto our standard approved computer list. That creates a good baseline for energy efficiency and environmental recycling.

And once the computers are in users’ hands, the Microsoft IT team have then been implementing a rolling schedule of power management and optimisation. When they measured the baseline figure, they discovered that there was a very different energy usage between laptops and desktops:

  • Our desktop computers were typically using 47KWH/Month each
  • Our laptop computers were typically using 6KWH/Month each

The team then used System Center to apply power-saving settings across the vast majority of our computers, with a standard power plan designed to save power whilst minimising inconvenience for users during business hours. Basically, PCs are running at peak performance while they are actually in use, but then save power when inactive.

The first roll out of power settings in 2010 reduced energy consumption by 26%

How much power can you save before users are inconvenienced?

Since then, the IT team have been continuing to optimise the settings, without making them so draconian that users become frustrated or simply opt-out of energy savings.

Microsoft Power Savings over time, since 2010

  • By April 2011, they’d reduced power usage by 32%
  • By January 2012, they’d reduced power usage by 49% for desktop PCs, and 26% for laptops

You can see the full list of power settings in the article linked at the bottom of this blog post.

All users can opt-out of the energy efficiency settings, but currently less than 10% do – and that is mainly for things like development and test systems running round-the-clock test scenarios.

The total savings in 2011 were almost $1M, saving 10.6 million kWh.

There’s an interesting side-note to the story too, related to power settings in Japan. Because of the extreme need to save power in the wake of their natural disaster last year, more aggressive power settings were used in Japan, which increased the numbers of users opting out. The experience helped the Microsoft IT team fine-tune customised power plan settings to achieve an optimum balance between productivity and efficiency goals. Microsoft IT's experience shows that most users at Microsoft are comfortable with a display timeout of 15 minutes and a sleep timeout of 30 minutes.

Key questions about cost saving through energy saving

  • What environmental and energy standards do your standard approved computers have to meet?
  • Do you want to change the mix of desktop and laptop computers to save money?
  • How can you deploy standard power settings across all of your computers?
  • What level of user opt-out will you allow from power savings?
  • How will you manage the balance between maximising power savings and minimising user opt-out?
  • Where are you going to put your cost saving tracking charts? (Hint: Which leadership report is it going in?)

Learn MoreRead the full Microsoft IT case study online (or download the Word version)

Find all blog posts about the Carbon Tax