IT organisations have begun to make significant changes to how their data centres are powered and cooled to save energy costs. But many IT departments haven't yet looked at saving energy throughout the rest of their companies' IT infrastructures.

Data centres use more power per square foot than any other part of the IT e state but, as a percentage of total power consumption, office equipment is the place where the most gains can be made.

"Office equipment has become more highly featured and powerful than ever before, but there's an energy cost to that," says Katherine Kaplan, who manages the US Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star consumer electronics and IT initiatives.

"If you look at overall power consumption, you're seeing almost double for computers and monitors than for data centres," says Jon Weisblatt, senior product manager of the power and cooling initiative at Dell Inc.

Verizon Wireless is one company that's saving plenty of green by going green. Earlier this year, the wireless carrier deployed 1E's NightWatchman power management software. This is designed to put desktop computers and monitors in offices, stores and call centers into power-saving mode after a period of inactivity, overriding any personal settings.

Another 1E product, SMSWakeUp, can "wake up" those machines to deliver patches and updates after-hours and then shut them down again when the process is complete. "It saved us [money] just turning computers on and off on demand," says CIO Ajay Waghray.

Waghray also replaced 7,000 PCs in 10 Verizon call centers with power-sipping Sun Ray thin clients from Sun Microsystems Inc. and began a companywide migration to LCD monitors.

The managed thin clients use 30% less energy than the non-managed PCs, says Waghray. He estimates that the power management and thin client initiatives combined have decreased the cost of front-office power consumption by US$900,000 annually.

To Waghray, going green is good business. The projects were good for customer service - off-hours patching and the more reliable thin clients improved uptime and reduced trouble-ticket volumes by 50%. "To make things more efficient, simple and customer-focused, green becomes a very important factor," he says.

There were an estimated 900 million desktops in use worldwide in 2006, according to analyst firm IDC. Even if all of those units were Energy Star 2006-compliant, they would still consume 426 billion kilowatt-hours of power annually.

If all of that equipment met the 2007 Energy Star 4.0 specification, power consumption would be 27% lower than it would be under the 2006 guidelines, according to Marla Sanchez, principal research associate at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US. That would save enough energy to power all of Switzerland for nearly two years and cut greenhouse gas emissions by about 178 billion pounds.

Do you want to reduce some of those emissions -- and save a lot of money in the process? Here are five tips on saving resources and increasing the efficiency of front-office equipment.

Do an Energy Audit

It's hard to know where you stand if you don't first measure the efficiency of the equipment you have.

Fortunately, doing a power audit of ordinary office equipment is easy. A simple, inexpensive meter that fits between the target device plug and the outlet can measure current loads and cumulative power consumption.

If you select a device with a usage pattern that's typical for your office, you can multiply the results across the entire population of similar equipment to quickly estimate total power consumption. From there, all you need to do is multiply use in kilowatt-hours by your local electricity rates, and you've got a baseline for savings.

Meters include basic models such as P3 International's Kill A Watt or Sea Sonic Electronics's Power Angel, and more-advanced units like the Watts Up Pro from Electronic Educational Devices. Watts Up Pro stores data and includes software for graphing that data to show watts, volts and kilowatt-hour consumption over time.

Adopt and Enforce Power Management

"The biggest impact you're going to make in your overall computing environment is to get systems to go to sleep," says Weisblatt. For example, a laptop that uses 14 to 90 watts in full operation uses less than 1 watt in standby mode. Desktops consume even more, and a single CRT monitor may use upward of 90 watts in operation mode.

Most companies aren't managing power settings in a coordinated way, however, and many desktops don't have power management turned on at all. "We do all this work to make [computers] optimised for power management, and we find big corporations go and make changes and de-optimise it," says Howard Locker, director of new technology at Lenovo.

The issue is that IT must do extra work to integrate and test Lenovo's bundled software, and many organisations don't want to take the time to do that.

Some corporations, however, are starting to get the message. Network administrator Keith Brown deployed LANDesk Software Inc.'s LANDesk to manage - and lock down - power settings on all laptops, desktops and attached monitors at Gwinnett Hospital System in Lawrenceville, Ga.

Like SMSWakeUp, LANDesk takes advantage of Intel Corp.'s vPro Active Management Technology (AMT), a feature built into its vPro series of processors that supports remote management. It enables LANDesk and similar tools to remotely awaken or turn on PCs, upload updates and turn them off again, Brown says.

Lenovo recommends configuring employee laptop disk drives to spin down after five minutes of inactivity, setting monitors to go blank at 10 minutes and configuring the machines to go into standby mode after 20 minutes.

Verizon's Waghray says he had no trouble enforcing power-saving settings. Machines power off at 12:30 am. and go back on at 5:30 am. Desktop monitors and hard drives go into power-saving mode after two hours. On thin clients, monitors and processors go into low-power mode after 20 minutes of inactivity.

Dump CRT monitors

Replacing older computers and peripherals with Energy Star-rated equipment can save energy and space, and the decreased power consumption can significantly reduce the need for cooling in office areas. Start with CRT displays.

Most businesses have already begun phasing out CRTs in favour of more- efficient LCDs, which use about one-third of the power, but there are still plenty of CRTs waiting to go.

Slim Down the Client

For the desktop, look for equipment that is Energy Star 4.0-compliant. Previous Energy Star ratings looked only at low-power modes, but "with this new version, we're comparing energy use while working," the EPA's Kaplan says. Computers that meet the standard consume 20% to 50% less energy than those that meet previous Energy Star standards, she says.

Compact PC models, such as Lenovo's ThinkCentre A61e desktop or Dell's Inspiron 531, are more power-efficient than standard desktops and save space as well. (The A61e is about the size of a 3-inch-thick notebook binder.) Compact PCs may use as little as half the power of a desktop. They also include Energy Star 4.0-mandated high-efficiency power supplies that are at least 80% efficient, as well as low-speed fans that reduce noise levels.

Replacing PCs with thin clients and a presentation server requires adding servers on the back end that boost power demand, the savings on the desktop more than make up for that, says Jeff McNaught, chief marketing officer at thin client company Wyse. With the 64-bit edition of Presentation Server running on the back end, three 800-watt servers can accommodate 1,000 PCs. That's about 3 watts per client, he says.

Waghray says thin clients had other benefits in Verizon's call centers, where equipment density is high and space is at a premium. "We have seen a reduction in cooling needs for the whole building," he says.

For all their energy-saving benefits, thin clients won't work in every case. Northrup Grumman's space technology sector is rolling out 3,000 thin clients and has tested 39 engineering applications. While most of the programs ran just fine on the thin clients, a few graphics-intensive ones didn't work, says Clayton Kau, vice president of engineering.

Other companies have encountered user resistance. Gwinnett Hospital System has dabbled in thin clients but has stalled at around 100 terminals because many employees prefer to have fully equipped desktops that run their applications locally.

Print More Efficiently

Desktops and laptops aren't the only areas where IT can improve efficiency. Printers tend to be kept longer than PCs, but each year new models bring greater efficiencies.

Hewlett-Packard claims that the energy efficiency of its printers improves 7% to 15% with each new generation. Therefore, replacing older units with new, Energy Star-labeled models can cut energy costs by as much as 25%.

New technologies are also improving efficiency. For instance, last spring, HP began replacing the fluorescent tubes used for photocopying with LEDs in some products. The technology uses 1.4 times less energy during copying and one-fourth the power when idle, according to HP.

Printers are also getting smarter about when to go into low-power mode. Multifunction printers from Xerox Corp., for example, monitor printer-usage patterns over time in order to decide when to power down and bring the machines online.

Both Jenny Craig and Terremark Worldwide have configured printers to output double-sided pages by default. While using duplex mode doesn't save energy, it does avoid unnecessary paper use, says Jorge Bandin, vice president of information systems and technology at Terremark.

Administrators can configure duplex printing across all printers, invoke power-saving modes, or configure machines to shut down during specific evening or weekend hours using auto¬mation tools available from various printer vendors.

Consolidating and better managing printers and other peripherals also saves energy and money. According to Forrester Research, an individual copier, printer and fax machine can consume 1,400 kilowatt-hours of power annually, but a multifunction printer (MFP) consumes half that amount. Even so, says IDC analyst Keith Kmetz, "for every MFP out there, there are [still] six or seven printers."

MFPs, which combine copying, printing, scanning and faxing, offer additional efficiencies. Terremark, for example, uses them with j2 Global Communications Inc.'s eFax service to route incoming faxes to e-mail instead of a printer.

There's no one-size-fits-all solution for energy-efficient computing, says Waghray. But the best options will be those that complement the business by simplifying processes, making staffers more efficient and improving customer service.

Even if green isn't the goal, he says, it is a means to those ends. "Start to think about [green computing] as something that's pretty much part and parcel of what you're doing anyway," he says.