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Dept. Of Energy Neglects Own Advice On Energy-Efficient IT

Audit finds that the Energy Department spent $1.6 million more than necessary on power costs in fiscal 2008.
The Department of Energy falls far short in following its own advice for energy-efficient information technology, a new departmental inspector general report finds.

For example, the report, which follows up on a similar one issued last October, finds that although the Energy Department gives guidance to turn off PCs and monitors if they are idle, departmental processes didn’t ensure that these features were enabled on the 46,345 PCs at the sites reviewed by the inspector general. This is despite a federal regulation that requires agencies to turn on power management features.

Energy Department CIO Tom Pyke said he will take steps to make the agency's IT more energy efficient. "The OCIO and the department fully support the efforts to reduce the nation's energy consumption and acknowledge the benefits of improving the energy efficiency of federal operations," he wrote in a letter responding to the inspector general's report.

In all, the inspector general reviewed energy use at seven federal and contractor sites, finding that those sites spent $1.6 million more on energy than necessary in fiscal 2008. The inspector general estimated that the department could save $23 million at those sites alone over the next five years -- equal to removing 3,000 cars from the road every year -- if certain steps are taken.

For example, departmental employees could take the simple step of turning their monitors off when they aren't being used. Almost half of the computers checked at the review sites either weren't set to turn off during downtimes or were set to turn off after some time longer than the recommended setting of 20 minutes of inactivity. This alone, the inspector general found, could save the Department of Energy $405,000 annually. Many of the computers tested weren’t set to ever go into standby or hibernation mode.

In the last year, the Department of Energy put power management into the standard Windows XP image deployed to new PCs, staggering power management after inactivity, to the point of turning the computer off at night. It's likely, however, that not all PCs would be running with this image.

The inspector general also found that the IT department hadn't taken necessary steps to monitor energy consumption at data centers, and so had no baseline from which to measure decreased use of energy. None of the sites had implemented the Data Center Energy Profiler, a tool developed by the department itself to help organizations discover ways to save energy in their own data centers.

One of the likely more controversial recommendations made by the inspector general is that the department switch from PCs and laptops to thin clients. Though some sites are already reviewing that possibility, Pyke said in his response that thin clients weren't suitable for all users, including those who often use high-end graphics.

InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on server virtualization. Download the report here (registration required).