5 Tips for Reducing IT-Related Energy Costs

Datacenter networking servers

As energy prices continue to soar and IT departments are squeezed even tighter, many IT organizations are looking at how they can reduce energy costs in their datacenters and across their PC fleets.

If you are still running outdated server hardware, haven’t blown the dust out of your rack cooling systems, and are still using PCs from eight years ago then it might be time to take a look at how your IT department can become more energy efficient.

1. Replace outdated server hardware

A 10-year-old washing machine might still work but it’s not likely to be the most power-efficient device in your household. The same applies to servers. If you are running old hardware in your datacenter or server room, it might be time to look at replacing it.

While servers are said to be processing more than six times the amount of data than ten years ago, the power they consume hasn’t increased significantly because of improvements in power efficiency. That can be more efficient power supplies, processors, cooling systems, and more. And modern CPUs are designed to boost processing capabilities without substantial increases in power draw.

If your server hardware is more than 5 years old, then it could be time to look into investing in new equipment. It might not only enable you to reduce energy bills but also benefit from the improved capacity and performance that new hardware provides. Servers using Arm or AMD Ryzen CPUs are your best bets if power-efficiency is a top concern.

2. Use Arm-based PC and server hardware

Arm-based servers currently account for around 7% of the market. So, a relatively small share at this time. But if you have workloads that could be moved to Arm servers, then the price-to-performance ratio and energy efficiency could be a win for your organization.

Microsoft has Arm-based virtual machines in Azure that it claims provide 50% better price performance than their Intel/AMD counterparts. Google Cloud also has virtual machine (VM) options based on Ampere Alta, as does Oracle. In Azure, you can run the following operating systems on Arm VMs:

  • Windows 11 Arm Preview
  • Ubuntu Server 20.04 LTS
  • Ubuntu Server 22.04 LTS
  • Ubuntu Server 18.0 LTS
  • CentOS
  • Debian 11
  • RedHat Enterprise ARM64
  • openSuse Leap 15.4 arm64
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15 SP4
Arm64 virtual machine configuration in Microsoft Azure
Arm64 virtual machine configuration in Microsoft Azure (Image Credit: Petri/Russell Smith)

As you can see for the list above, Windows Server is noticeable by its absence. The workload will likely determine whether Arm is an option for you, regardless of whether you are running apps in the cloud or your own datacenter. But Arm-based devices have the potential to allow you to make considerable savings.

Arm-based PCs and laptops can also help reduce energy costs. Although Arm-based devices running Windows are the exception rather than the rule today, they might make sense in some situations. Because of the limited support for Windows on Arm, and issues with performance at the time of writing, Windows on Arm devices are best suited to browser-based apps or applications that have been compiled and optimized to run specifically on Arm CPUs.

If you use Apple devices, the Arm story is very different. PCs based on Apple’s relatively new M1 and M2 chips are more efficient and performant than Arm-based Windows PCs. And Apple’s devices play nicely with software that isn’t explicitly compiled for Arm. M1 and M2 laptops also have great battery life.

3. Increase virtualization density

Virtualization has long been used to get as much bang for your buck out of server hardware. But are you fully optimizing the virtualized workloads on your hardware? Could the density of virtual machines or virtualized apps be increased without impacting performance to make the most out of your investment and energy consumption?

What is virtual machine density?

Virtual machine density refers to the number of virtual machines running on a single host server. The more VMs running on a single host, the greater the density. Virtual machine density is usually measured as a ratio.

Microsoft gives a maximum number of virtual processors per logical processor that you can run on Hyper-V. A logical processor is equivalent to a physical core or thread. Most other vendors give the maximum number of virtual processors per core. So, it can be difficult to compare Microsoft’s solution against others. Determining virtual machine density is something you should speak to the virtualization solution vendor about to help you optimize.

4. Optimize Windows power settings

Windows includes a couple of built-in power plans that you can choose from. Or you can create your own. It’s important to make sure that laptops and PCs are using the ‘Balanced’ power plan in most cases. This ensures that the processor, and other hardware, only enter full power mode when really necessary.

Some devices have a vendor power plan instead of ‘High’, which is the second built-in plan in Windows. High power is only necessary when the user needs to process audio and video in real time. Vendor power plans might be the default option on specialist hardware if there is a specific app shipped with the product for managing power settings, like on Asus ProArt StudioBooks.

A vendor-supplied power plan on a Asus ProArt StudioBook
A vendor-supplied power plan on a Asus ProArt StudioBook (Image Credit: Petri/Russell Smith)

But for most users, the Balanced power plan should be selected. IT administrators can use Group Policy or Mobile Device Management (MDM) policies to ensure that the correct plan is applied to the device.

Power settings can be accessed in Windows 10 and Windows 11 in the legacy Control Panel or in the Settings app.

5. Use power-efficient software

Browsers are where many users spend most of their time. And it’s no secret that it’s not just the operating system that should be optimized for power efficiency. Apps also play a role in the energy consumption story. Back in 2017, Microsoft claimed in a blog post that its Edge browser used up to 31% less power than Google Chrome and up to 44% less than Firefox. A lot has changed since then but if the claims were true, it shows how software that performs similar functions can vary wildly in power efficiency.

Microsoft Edge power consumption in a graph from 2017
Microsoft Edge power consumption in a graph from 2017 (Image Credit: Microsoft)

Since 2017, Edge switched to using Chromium as its rendering engine, so the power-efficiency gap between Edge and Chrome today is not likely as wide as it once was. But still worth considering as you choose which browsers to allow on your endpoints.

Microsoft Teams is based on Electron and it is a known resource hog. As are many other common Electron-based apps, like Slack and Visual Studio Code. If you code apps in house, it’s good to look at cross-platform frameworks that are more efficient. Tauri should soon be as capable as Electron but provide a more resource-efficient solution for enterprises.