Saving 9 cents a day per computer adds up for the Air Force

A software program that turns off PCs at night combined with energy-efficient equipment reduces IT operating costs by $17 million a year.

Saving 9 cents a day for every computer you own might not seem like much. But when your network is made up of almost 600,000 PCs, savings quickly add up.

That's been the case for the Air Force, which expects to save about $17 million a year from simply turning off computers when not in use and installing energy-saving technology products. That works out to 9 cents a day, Debra Foster, deputy director of enterprise services at the Air Force program executive office for enterprise information systems, said in an e-mailed statement.

The Air Force requires computers maintain a power management standard, she said. The configuration for each PC is centrally managed, allowing network administrators to control all computers on the system.

That allowed the service to find a workaround for a common problem many businesses face: not being able to turn off computers at night. Desktops are typically left on during the night so system administrators can install software and security updates, and back up data. That can't happen if computers are off.

But computers left on all day and night waste energy, said Robert Huang, a consultant with the Cadmus Group, which works with the Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar Program. "There are solutions out there but none of them worked out all that well," he said.

The Air Force instituted years ago a common desktop Microsoft configuration that all its computers were set to and users had to follow. That made it easy for the service to ask Microsoft to develop a program that automatically turned on the computers sometime during the night for a specified time up to 23 hours.

Air Force officials also attribute the $17 million annual savings to the purchase of EnergyStar qualified computers. Mandates such as Executive Order 13423 require agencies to purchase EnergyStar-qualified computers, and the service has taken multiple steps to comply with the regulations.

"By the nature of their design [they] are less expensive due to the fact they are not designed for high-end computing," Foster said. "EnergyStar computers by design have a lower energy draw; hence energy savings are recognized immediately."

EnergyStar officials hope other agencies will emulate the Air Force's approach to save energy and money, Huang said. "This is definitely something that could and frankly should be implemented across other agencies," he said.