Green is good, and energy saving options have long been available to users of Windows PCs to save both money and the planet. You know the kind of thing?options to spin down hard disks, switch off the monitor and put the system into low power (hibernation) mode when not in use.

Making sure these options are used, and used effectively, however, can be tedious and time consuming, especially in large organisations where hundreds or even thousands of PCs are involved. Unless, that is, you employ an application like PowerStudio, from UK developer Certero, to not only enforce the power saving features Windows has to offer, but pat you on the back and let you know just how green you’ve become.

What is it and who is it for?

Aimed at organisations with hundreds of desktop PCs, PowerStudio is a Web-based application that can be used to centrally manage the power saving options built into the popular Windows operating sytem. The main aim is, clearly, to reduce running costs by switching off components or even whole PCs when not needed. By the same token, however, developer Certero also claims to prolong the life of computer equipment and reduce the carbon footprint of customers using its product.

Pricing & setup

A client/server application, PowerStudio is licensed according to the number of desktop PCs to be managed. The minimum order is for 250 seats at a cost of £8.80 per seat (ex. VAT), i.e. £2,200 for 250 users. Public organisations can then claim a 10% discount on that price plus there’s a sliding scale for larger orders down to as little as £6.05 (ex. VAT) per license.

Initially the purchase price may seem a little high, but it compares well against the competition and includes pre-sales advice, in addition to help with installation and on-going support once it’s up and running. Moreover, according to Certero, customers can expect to recoup the cost of their PowerStudio investment through lower energy bills in just four to five months.

A ‘lite’ version of the product is also planned for smaller companies with fewer than 250 PCs. This will be available for download from the Certero Web site, although no dates or prices have been announced for this implementation.

Requirements are minimal. The main PowerStudio server component requires Windows Server 2003 or later with Microsoft’s IIS configured to host the Web interface. It also needs SQL Server, either on the same system or remotely to manage the database used by the product. The free SQL Server Express edition can be used here, and on our test server installation took around 30 minutes including SQL Server setup.

Management is via a browser and is best done remotely rather than on the server as you’ll need Adobe’s Flash Player plug-in to view utilisation graphs. Client deployment is done centrally from the browser GUI using the tools provided, with facilities to discover new computers over the LAN or via Active Directory. A scheduler is also included to capture new systems added after the initial deployment with manual setup of clients another option where necessary.

Unfortunately, servers can’t be managed using PowerStudio but most desktop PCs and laptops can, with support for all versions of Windows from 2000 to the latest Windows 7 release.

Does it do it well?

PowerStudio is a really effective and easy to manage tool that can be used to enforce the power saving options already available in Windows via customer-defined profiles. Profiles can be applied to individual systems or groups, including specific OUs on an Active Directory network, with different settings for normal working hours, weekends and so on. PCs left unattended can be put into a variety of low-energy states with support for Wake-on-LAN (WoL) technology for maintenance plus the ability to specify specific power-up windows to, for example, allow for software updates.

Users needing desktop access when out of the office can also be authorised to power up their PCs remotely. Plus there’s an optional presentation mode, to switch the PC into an always-on state for up to 24 hours, ideal for when you don’t want the screen to be blanked or the system powered off.

Other solutions offer similar, policy-based, energy management facilities. However, PowerStudio goes beyond mere enforcement with tools to monitor power consumption and use the information gathered to better design enforcement profiles. It also stands out by virtue of comprehensive reporting and graphing, enabling customers to see how effective the product is and the savings made.

Some preparatory work is needed here to tell PowerStudio how much you’re paying for electricity and how much each type of PC consumes. But it’s not difficult and as well as showing savings in monetary terms, PowerStudio graphs can be switched to Kilowatt hours or CO2 emissions?even equivalent coal, wood or water consumption.

Another key selling point is for users to get involved in the power saving process. Users can be awarded points for any energy saving activities and a league table viewed from the PowerStudio client along with details of the policy being applied plus simple buttons to put the PC into hibernation mode, re-boot, switch off and so on.

Where does it disappoint?

The biggest drawback is its Windows dependency, whereas its main rival?NightWatchman?works with both Windows PCs and Apple Macs. Fortunately that’s not a huge issue as, in practice, mixed networks aren’t that common and when Macs are deployed they’re likely to be in the minority, with the biggest savings to be made by managing the power consumption of Windows desktops.

Similarly, the inability to manage servers is unlikely to put many buyers off as they’re more likely to have their power settings managed by other means. The only other issue has to be a somewhat individual interface, although we didn’t find it hard to get to grips with and, once mastered, it worked very well indeed.

Would we recommend it?

Left to their own devices, users of Windows PC are unlikely to make use of the power saving options in Windows, even when encouraged to do so and given clear advice on how to go about it. Manually configuring hundreds of PCs isn’t practical, so the only way of making sure energy saving policies are adhered to is by using a monitoring and enforcement application.

Certero’s PowerStudio provides the tools to make that happen, is easy to manage and goes a lot further than a lot of the competition by encouraging user participation and enabling customers to see just what impact their energy optimisation policies are making. We’d definitely recommend it to anyone looking to make a difference. [9]