James O'Neill's Blog

November 29, 2010

How green are my PCs ?

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 11:48 am

I read recently – and I can’t find the link – that energy efficient light bulbs emit less heat, so central heating needs to work a little harder. This doesn’t cancel out all of the saving, because it is more efficient to burn gas at home than to generate electricity and heat your home with light bulbs, and where there is air-conditioning not generating heat from lighting in summer is a double saving.  It set me thinking about what was a real saving and what was just paying lip service to the green agenda.

Desktop PCs are obvious consumer of electricity and Windows Vista was the first operating to allow organizations to manage power settings centrally with group policy, it was more reliable than Windows XP going into and out of sleep, resuming in a second or two, An up-to-date organisation can ensure its desktops go to sleep after 15 or 20 minutes and Vista and Windows 7 can wake from sleep to run scheduled tasks like backup, disk defragmentation and updates. People have challenged my advocacy of sleep saying “But sleep still uses some power”. When Hibernated or Shutdown you’d expect a machine to use no power at all, but I found the new “Net-top” I was building drew the same current when shut down and when sleeping – “off” is sometimes “Standby”.

Watts and Kilowatt-Hours can seem a bit abstract so as a rule of thumb: using 1 Watt for 1 Year costs £1 (that’s 8.76 KWh so £1 implies 11.4p per KWh – which will do here as a representative cost on a UK home tariff). Obviously prices vary around the world, and so do emissions depending on the Power stations feeding the grid and losses as electricity is transmitted. The carbon trust’s emissions figure for electricity off the UK grid is  544g of CO2 per KWh consumed, so for a second rule of thumb: 1 watt for 1 year creates 5KG of C02. For comparison that’s equivalent to about 2 litres of petrol or 1.8 litres of diesel. Tax policy means 5Kg of C02 emissions saved from Petrol or diesel saves about £2.50 but 5Kg saved from domestic electricity only saves £1, so I would say cutting down on travel is easier to do and has the bigger financial impact than saving electricity. A logical conclusion from that is using more energy in IT in order to reduce Travel is a good thing. But that’s not my subject for this post.

I recently bought a plug in power meter from Maplin, I wanted to compare my newly built computer against the old one, to look for savings, and basically because I’m a bit nerdy like that. I remember seeing the Standby saver  the BBC’s Dragons Den; it “sees” a remote switching the TV off and cuts the power to the TV and things connected to it (like a DVD player or Xbox), so they don’t bleed power. When the remote turns the TV back on, power is restored to everything.  The saver’s web site proclaims “reduce your electricity bill by up to £43 per unit”. The first company I found selling it claimed “On Average this product will save the user over £37 per year”. So I wondered “Would I average a net saving 40Watts over a whole year?”. There is a second version which connects a computer via USB when the computer goes to sleep the monitor, printer and other peripherals get powered down – is that worth investigating ?

The answer for my household appears to be resounding no. Our secondary TV is an old 14” CRT one that is used so rarely it’s left unplugged; just as well it consumes 12W on standby (compared with 50W when watching TV). A large CRT TV might get most of the way to the 40W target: but I haven’t had a one of those for some years. My LCD TV is never truly “off”, registering 1.4W on standby –  (against 120W when running). A standby saver would power off my early-model Xbox 360 which registers 2.8W on standby (and 180W when gaming – the new models should be lower), and it’s steering wheel – 1W on standby and up to 13W when running and Kinect, which registers zero on standby and no more than 7W when running. That’s a total of 5.2W. The TV has integrated free-view (no set-top box), and one wouldn’t normally put any kind of recorder onto the standby saver: my 20 year old VCR uses 10W when idle and it’s used so rarely I could save myself a tenner a year by disconnecting it. Even including it, I can’t get to a third of the saving promised.

Turning to my computer: I bought its 15” LCD monitor back in 2000, like the TV it only has a standby mode which uses 4W (against 25W in use).  I’ve bought a new 20” monitor  for the “net-top” which uses just under 1W when idle and 37W in use – 50% more power for double the screen area. My inkjet printer draws 1.2W when idle (I didn’t test it printing but a self test was just short of 10W) Of all the peripherals my scanner is worst drawing 9W whether being used or not, worse than TV, Xbox Monitor and printer put together. Even if I left it on (which I don’t) I can’t get the total idle power past 15W.

The shock in all the Power consumption numbers is the old computer. Dell say it shipped in November ‘03, and its graphics weren’t state of the art even then. The new machine is based around the Intel Atom 510 which has integrated graphics, they support aero-glass but wouldn’t cut it for gaming. But it only uses 29W when running – there are graphics cards out there which use several times that. With 2 cores with hyper-threading, it out-processes the 2.2GHz Celeron in the old machine – even with a clock speed of 1.66GHz (its speed is fixed unlike its cousins found in Netbooks).  In sleep or standby it uses 5W. I get a system total with the new monitor of 66W running and 6W sleeping.
The old machine also goes to “standby” rather than “off”- drawing about 1W, and when running the old Celeron board needs about 85-90W, giving a total with monitor around 110W. But what does it use in sleep mode? 10W ? 15W ?   No. 35W. I thought I’d missed a decimal point on the meter, but it is thirty five watts. The atom uses less power awake than the old machine uses when it is sleeping.

This isn’t absolute proof of much… newer should be more efficient, and Atom based systems can run business applications quite well enough with a power consumption more like that of a terminal. Beyond that your mileage will vary, but if you are thinking about refreshing hardware it’s hard to find out how much energy is used in it’s manufacture, but it may be worth getting a meter and doing some tests of your own to see how much will bee used in it’s working life. 

For those who might be interested, here are my numbers. Feel free to use the comments to share yours.

  Active typical Max recorded Sleep / Standby “Off”
Acer Monitor 225 HQ  22″ (19×10.5″) monitor
(2010 model year)
37 W 44 W 1 W 1 W
Self Build Atom 510 PC 29 W 36 W 5 W 5 W
Dell Optiplex GX 270 (2003 Model year) 80 W 90 W 35 W 1 W
Samsung SyncMaster 520TFT 15″ (12×9″) Monitor
(2000 model year)
24 W 30 W 4 W 4 W
HP Scanner 9 W 9 W 9 W  
Epson R2400 Inkjet Printer 8 W   1 W  
Sony 14″ CRT TV (approx. 1990) 50 W   12 W  
Samsung LE26R41 LCD TV(Approx. 2006) 118 W 128 W 1 W  
Sanyo VHS VCR (Approx. 1990) 21 W 28 W 10 W  
Xbox 360 Console (Approx. 2006) 170 W 186 W 3 W  
Xbox 360 force feedback Wheel 10 W 13 W 1 W  
Xbox Kinect 5 W 7 W 0 W  

November 26, 2010

Mobile computing. Make mine a red one.

Filed under: Uncategorized — jamesone111 @ 2:32 pm

With the upheaval I’ve been through recently, I needed to get a new computer.
Even as a starting point this seems daft: recently I built a new machine using an Intel Atom “net-top” board to consume the minimum amount of power. We have a netbook which my wife annexed the day it arrived, and in the study there is a 7 year old Dell which does the usual mail, web and letter writing, as well as running Vista media center to feed the Xbox.
But I can’t cope without a laptop, and I last bought one in about 1997. All my laptops since (A Toshiba, a Lenovo, and a succession of Dells) came from Microsoft purchasing with plenty of memory ,the highest resolution screen and indifferent battery life but without the Sherpa needed to move them. After this sheltered existence I had to source my own and wanted something which
1.    Runs the software I use – including the ability to run Hyper-V
2.    Has a big, high resolution screen for working on photos when away from home.
3.    Has a full size keyboard  (large screen implies large keyboard, so that’s OK)
4.    Is truly portable
5.    Has good battery life
6.    Doesn’t cost a fortune
(2) and (3) say this isn’t a job for a netbook. Right now there seem to be a lot of machines with 1366×768 screens, and beyond that means higher cost and either shorter battery life or a bigger, heavier battery. Over the years, I’ve notice when designers are able to reduce power consumption  the battery shrinks to keep life constant at about 2 hours.

Here it might be worth not merely acknowledging the elephant in the room, but giving its trunk a robust pull. Apple’s iPad is – like anything else to have come out of Apple in the last decade – a fantastic piece of design; and its designers didn’t say a battery was too big when it lasted more than two hours. Apples view contrasts with Microsoft’s which is that portable computing is carrying your computer (your office) with you – if you don’t want lug a desktop replacement around to achieve that, then a tablet PC or a netbook is a better way. If you want to run office, accounting software or Adobe Photoshop, you can – though the netbook experience might be well behind what you’d get on a desktop PC. Microsoft started using the name and in some places Windows Mobile 6.5 uses that term to identify itself – and with a modern skin it looks just like Pocket PC 2002. But these devices could never run Photoshop or your accounting program “Pocket PC” was an aspiration, not a description.  I’ve written before that Ray Ozzie’s vision of “Three screens and a cloud” recognises the difference between the screen in your living room, the one on your desk and the one in your pocket; one can choose to see Windows Phone 7 as Microsoft’s realization that the “Pocket” device never was a baby PC, it can’t be one, and shouldn’t be treated like one. When senior Microsoft folk have been asked to comment on the success of the iPad they’ve opined that when the hardware allows a real PC to have the form factor of an iPad it will be great and dodged the point that the iPad has proved the market exists for something that is neither personal computer (and a Mac is a personal computer in this context)  nor pocket sized. I might have a use for such a thing in the future, but the only thing that does the job I need it to do is a PC.

Point (1) of my requirements above would rule out just about every netbook on the market on RAM and CPU grounds if form factor had not already done so. Going through the Intel processors used in laptops (never mind the AMD ones) I began to long for the 1990s when you got a 486 or a Pentium in one of a handful of speeds. I’ve taken virtualization support for granted over the last few years, and it was a surprise to find the Intel processors in many current laptops don’t support virtualization (the Pentium T4500 is one of the most popular and it doesn’t) Generally if it is named “Pentium” it doesn’t and if it is a Core2 it does- but there are exceptions to both, Celerons are about 50:50. At the time of writing the i3/i5/i7 family all do.  Eventually I gravitated to the Intel I3 chip. One has to weigh up the option of the Half-the-speed/Double the battery version against the standard version, and designs which use Intel’s integrated graphics against those which use ATI or Nvidia – how much better is a separate chipset, and what cost to battery and wallet.
Having found a model which meets the requirements, comparing prices needs you to keep your wits about you: I found one retailer selling the Brand-X model Y much cheaper than another, only to find from the small print that “Model Y” is a vague term covering different processors and memory sizes. 2GB machines never come with a single, more expensive 4GB SIMM so upgrading to 4GB always means throwing memory away.
I never expected to write I bought my laptop from Tesco, but that is what I did. It’s a Dell and met all the requirements: it was delivered the hour Tesco said it would be and within a couple of hours I had it just how I wanted it.  And after years of black or battleship grey the most notable part of the spec is that it’s red.

November 1, 2010

Thinking about the cloud – part 2, Office 365

Filed under: Azure / Cloud Services,Exchange,Office,Real Time Collaboration — jamesone111 @ 3:03 pm

In my previous post I was talking in general terms about why BPOS was a sound idea. The recent announcement of Ray Ozzie’s retirement set people quoting his mantra “Three screens and a cloud” – the three screens being Computer, Mobile device, and TV.  The unwritten part of “Three screens” is recognising their diversity: people should interact with the best possible client – which means adapting to the specifics of each “screen”; it’s not “any browser and a cloud”: many phone apps do something which PCs do in the browser, they only exist because of the need to give a different experience on a different kind of screen. Instead of seeing a monolithic website (which in reality probably wasn’t monolithic) we see an app which consumes a service (probably the same service which was behind the web site).

But there was more than publishing stuff using services instead of HTML pages; more even than the likes of Groove or Live Meeting which used the cloud to enable new things.  From Ozzie’s vision, famously expressed in 2005, came a realization that services already used by business PCs and devices would increasingly be in the cloud, instead of on an organizations own servers. That was the cue to provide Exchange as a service, SharePoint as a service and so on. We’ve tried to make a distinction between “Software as a Service” – which in some people’s minds is “Any browser and a cloud” and “Software PLUS Services” – which covers a plethora of client software: from multi-player games on Xbox to iTunes to Outlook talking to an Exchange server. But when Office Outlook on a PC accesses Exchange-Online , Exchange is software and it is provided as a service –it just isn’t accessed using a browser: I haven’t yet seen a successful way to make the distinction between the two kinds of “Software as a service” just understand it has different meanings depending on who is speaking.

I don’t know if it was planned but it seemed fitting that we should announce the next generation of BPOS on the day after Ray’s announcement.  I prefer the new name Office 365. Mary Jo Foley posted something headed “This is not Office in the cloud” – in which she says “this was not some out-of-the-blue change in Microsoft’s business model. Microsoft is still pushing Office first and foremost as a PC-based software package.” Which is spot on: if you need office in a browser, Office Web App is there but it is not a replacement. I wrote in the previous post about the challenges of providing SharePoint, Exchange and so on, it is not Office but the services behind Office which are in the cloud. The key points of Office 365 are these:

  • At it’s core are the latest versions of the Server Software (Lync replaces Office Communications Server and provides Live Meeting functionality, and both Exchange and SharePoint are updated).  The FAQ page has a link to explain what happens to existing BPOS customers (and there are plenty of them – sending 167 million e-mails a day).
  • The ability to create a Public website (previously part of Office Live Small Business) has moved into Office 365 (Again the FAQ page explains what will happen to Office Live Small Business)
  • The update to SharePoint 2010 enables us to offer Office Web Apps – so documents can be viewed in high fidelity and edited from the browser.
  • Despite the the presence of Office Web Apps the main client will be Office on Desktop computers : Office Professional Plus for the desktop is now available as a part of the package on the same monthly subscription basis
  • There is a-la-carte pricing for individual parts of the suite and bundles known as plans targeted at different market segments.

I think the a-la-carte pricing option is a good thing – though some are bound to say “Microsoft are offering too many options”. The plans are just the combinations of cloud services we think will be popular; services can be added to a plan or bought standalone – for example “Kiosk” workers can get on the company e-mail system with Outlook web access from $2.  We’ve announced that the plans will cost between $4 to $27 per month,  that one of the enterprise plans closely mirrors the current BPOS at the same $10/user/month, and that there will be $6 plan with the features we think small business will need. In the run up to the launch I did see some details of different plans and options but I haven’t seen all of these in the announcements and it is not impossible that they will be fine tuned before the system goes fully live.  When will that be? The launch has a beta programme (sign-up is at http://office365.microsoft.com) , Mary-Jo said back in July that the plan was for full launch was early 2011 which sounds about right – it’s also necessarily vague, because a beta might reveal a lot of unexpected work to be done: if you want a more precise date I always say in these cases those who know won’t talk, and those who talk don’t know.

We’ve positioned Office 365 as helping small businesses to think big and big business to act fast – the link gives examples which range from the Starwood hotel chain to a single independent restaurant – it’s worth taking time to work out what it might mean to the organization(s) you work in/with: the cloud might be right for you, it might not – but if it isn’t I’d want to be able to explain why not and not have people think an opportunity was being missed through inertia.

This post originally appeared on my technet blog.

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