Celebrating the work of Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory

Phil Wilcock
Jan 18, 2011

Back in 1998-9 when we first started to realize the value of PC Power Management things were a little different to now. In IT terms 10 years is a lifetime and I was reminded recently just how difficult is was to obtain any information whatsoever on the energy savings possible.

Nowadays there are online energy savings calculators, whitepapers galore, and vendors are keen to publish their energy consumption data to the world. Back in 1999 it was different. For a start, the internet was still like a wobbly toddler taking it’s first steps compared to today. I seem to remember that the main search engine back then was Alta Vista (and very fine it was too until the Google boys turned up), and even that was turning up blank if you happened to search for ‘pc power management’.

The hardware then was clunky too. Do you remember the spec of your desktop 10 years ago? If you had more than 256mb RAM in there you were Master of the Universe. In fact I remember one of the most common cautions that people had about turning of their computers at night was the fear that they may not come on again – hard disk failure being a particular worry.

Anyway, the breakthrough for me came when I stumbled across the folks at Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory (LBNL). Suddenly I found a bunch of people who not only recognized the value of PC power management but were actually talking about it in public! If you haven’t heard of their work (where have you been?), here’s what they say about themselves..

It all started during the 1973 energy crisis, when scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a U.S. Department of Energy laboratory managed by the University of California, began to explore ways to improve energy efficiency in buildings and industry.

The groundbreaking piece work as far as I was concerned was their 1997 paper ‘User Guide to Power Management for PCs and Monitors’. I you read this, you have to bear in mind that at the time, electricity was a cheap commodity, and generally speaking most companies just left all of their systems running all day..every day. Even then though, the guys from LBNL recognized the savings potential, stating Without power management, U.S. businesses could spend $1.75 billion on energy to power PCs and monitors by the year 2000. Ironically, much of this energy would be wasted: research shows that most of the time personal computers are on they are not actively in use

Forward thinking? Just a little..

Systems Management tools were a little thin on the ground back then too. In their 2001 report Field Surveys of Office Equipment Operation Patterns, they actually performed 11 after hours walk-throughs of various offices in order to collect data on turn-off rates for various types of office equipment (computers, monitors, printers, fax machines, copiers, and multifunction products). Each piece of equipment observed was recorded and its power status noted (e.g. on, off, low power). Even then they found that only 44 percent of computers, 32 percent of monitors, and 25 percent of printers were turned off at night..

Their work in this field was and still is invaluable in raising awareness of the issues of energy use in PCs and other office equipment. They have been involved in the Energy Star program from the earliest days, and we would certainly have found it much harder to get started on our PC power management quest without their work. So thanks guys, for all the hard work.

Their latest work continues to deliver, with their technicians working to improve data center efficiency in China – https://www.physorg.com/news/2010-12-berkeley-lab-china-energy-efficiency.html

If you have a spare ten minutes, check out their website for some other fascinating projects – https://www.lbl.gov/

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