Geek of All Trades: Stop Wasting Power and Save $50 Per Computer Per Year

Having the computers under your sleep-schedule control saves you money and can help conserve power—but it’s a delicate balancing act.

By Greg Shields

Money is tight everywhere. Businesses continue to seek ways to reduce costs. Spending is at an all-time low. One relatively unobtrusive cost-saving method with the potential for a big payout is your monthly power bill.

Not surprisingly, energy costs can be enormous. I ran the numbers through one of those power-management calculators the other day and discovered that leaving my computers powered on all the time costs an extra $50 per computer per year. That’s 50 bucks wasted that I can easily save. Multiply that by a hundred computers and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

Power management has been part of Windows almost since the beginning. However, many of my early attempts to use it were nightmarishly difficult. Back then, I couldn’t get computers to power down in the desired manner.

During regular work hours, users are OK if their monitors shut down after a few minutes. They’re not happy, however, if their computers sleep too quickly. Bringing a computer back from sleep state takes a few extra seconds that becomes an impact on their workday. As a result, they’ll complain—a lot.

Getting to that magic $50-per-year savings requires some crafty scheduling. During regular work hours, I want computers to sleep after four hours of inactivity. Once work hours are over, I want them to sleep after just 15 minutes. I also need to ensure I’m not affecting my ability to update those computers in the off hours with Windows Server Update Services (WSUS).

Planning for Power

Figure 1 Create a Power Plan

Figure 1 Create a Power Plan

Navigate to Computer Configuration | Preferences | Control Panel Settings | Power Options. Click to create a New | Power Plan (Windows Vista and later), just like you see in Figure 1.

There are three Power Plan options within the Control Panel available by default: Balanced, High Performance and Power Saver. Most of us set our computers to the High Performance plan most of the time. If you’re like me, you probably only shift to Power Saver when you need a few more minutes of battery juice on long flights without external power.

There are noticeable performance differences between these two plans. You can also use them as containers for sleep timeouts. During the regular workday, I set my computers to High Performance, where performance is best and user interruptions are lowest. After hours, I’ll switch to Power Saver, where performance is slowest, power use is lowest and computers sleep quickly.

Figure 2 The Power Saver Power Plan is best for after hours

Figure 2 The Power Saver Power Plan is best for after hours

Figure 2shows the first step in configuring this type of schedule. Adjust the Power Saver power plan and configure its sleep timeouts to 15 minutes. Also turn on hybrid sleep, which adds protection for user data should computers completely lose power while they’re sleeping. This setting can preserves user data in the event of an external power outage.

An important checkbox in Figure 2 is the one marked “Set as the active power plan.” This configures Power Saver as the active plan. If you don’t set this checkbox, your computers won’t use any other Power Saver settings you’ve checked.

Click OK to create the new plan, and rename it to something recognizable, like After Hours Power Plan. Then, create a second plan with your workday settings. For me, this second plan is the High Performance plan, with the sleep timeout set to 240 minutes.

Scheduling for Power

That first step is the easy part. The more difficult aspect is scheduling the dates and times for applying the two plans. Prior to Group Policy Preferences (GPPs), this was exceptionally challenging without a third-party utility. Even with GPPs, the process can be somewhat complicated.

Here’s how it works with native GPPs (be aware that third-party alternatives still exist if you’re looking for easier administration): At this point, you should have two Power Plans in your GPO. The first sets High Performance mode during business hours. The second turns on Power Savings mode at all other times. View the Properties page of the business hours plan, click the Common tab, check the box for “Item-level targeting,” and choose Targeting.

The Targeting Editor for a GPP defines when it will be applied to a user or computer. You must attach a GPP GPO to an Active Directory Organizational Unit of users or computers first. Once attached, the items in the Targeting Editor further constrain when the GPP is applied.

Figure 3 Targeting the Business Hours Power Plan

Figure 3 Targeting the Business Hours Power Plan

Figure 3 shows the configuration for targeting my Business Hours Power Plan. A set of Boolean operators applies the plan between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. from Monday through Friday. Notice that the five days of the week are captured underneath a collection validated as true. Each is also separated by a Boolean OR operator. The time item is preceded by a Boolean AND operator. Thus, this plan will only be applied when one of the days is true and the current time is within the configured range.

Figure 4 Targeting the After Hours Power Plan

Figure 4 Targeting the After Hours Power Plan

The After Hours Power Plan should go live after 5:00 p.m. and until 8:00 a.m. from Monday through Friday, and at all times during the weekend. Figure 4 shows one way of targeting for that schedule.

Nightly Activities and Power PlansPreviously, I would’ve shied away from having computers sleep due to the need for maintenance during the evening. It used to be more difficult to wake sleeping computers to install critical patches and other updates. These days, WSUS and the Windows Update Agent are smarter about powering on sleeping computers to install patches. More importantly, the Windows Update Agent can quickly return computers to sleep after completing updates.

Figure 5 WSUS Group Policy for waking computers

Figure 5 WSUS Group Policy for waking computers

If you decide to have your computers on a Power Plan, you’ll want to give WSUS the authority to wake them. You can do this by adjusting a traditional Group Policy setting found at Computer Configuration | Administrative Templates | Windows Components | Windows Update. The policy setting you’re looking for has the amusingly long title “Enabling Windows Update Power Management to automatically wake up the system to install scheduled updates.” You can see that setting in Figure 5. Setting this to “Enabled” will instruct WSUS to wake computers for scheduled updates.

Pay careful attention to the help text you see in Figure 5, as this policy setting has evolved over the years. In previous versions, the policy setting would wake computers but wouldn’t quickly shut them down if they were on battery power. As a result, sleeping computers on battery power might get powered on but wouldn’t quickly return to sleep. This often caused battery drain.

Those same computers could overheat if they were inside a computer bag and configured to power on for long periods. The updated policy in Figure 5 now quickly returns the computer to a sleep state after two minutes when that computer is running on battery power.

In the End, $50 is $50

Every business loves to cut costs. They love it even more when those costs are wasted money in the first place, and cutting them out doesn’t impact anyone. Power-management policies like these can quickly cut your computer costs by $50 per computer per year.

Want to check out these numbers yourself? There are several calculators such as this one at http://www2.scriptlogic.com/energycalc. The calculator there will quickly quantify how power-management plans are great for the bottom line and great for the environment.

Greg Shields

Greg Shields*, MVP, is a partner at Concentrated Technology. Get more of Shields’ Jack-of-all-Trades tips and tricks at ConcentratedTech.com.*

 

Get Recognized for Your Best Tips

Are you a Jack-Of-All-Trades (JOAT) Windows administrator? Are you responsible for networks, servers, printers, and everything in-between? If so, you’ve surely developed some useful tips and tricks for keeping those servers running. Interested in sharing? TechNet Magazine’s Geek-of-all-Trades columnist Greg Shields is looking for a few good tips for an upcoming column, and he’s seeking your help. 

 Got a smart tip for managing your Windows servers? Figured out a nifty tactic for keeping desktops running? Care to share a secret trick for managing your IT environment?  Greg’s “Top 20 IT Tips” will appear in an upcoming TechNet Magazine issue. There, he’ll be recognizing the top 20 smartest IT JOATs in the industry alongside their game-changing tip or trick.  Submit yours today!  Get your name in print, extol your virtues, and remind everyone why you’re the ones that get the real work done.  Send your tips to gshields@concentratedtech.com.  Every submitted tip will get a response.

—G.S.