New software puts 'sleepless' PCs to bed

OS can get into a state where it just doesn't want to go sleep.

British firm 1E has launched a "significant upgrade" for its PC power management software, NightWatchman, which puts PCs to sleep at night so that businesses can reduce their carbon footprint and power consumption.

NightWatchman 5.5 allows administrators to control the power state of all the PCs on a network. It is installed on each client, but only on Windows Vista and XP machines at the moment, although the company tells us that it is considering Mac and Linux support in the future.

The new version now has its own management console, and is easier to use, and is no longer reliant on Microsoft Systems Management Server, but now works with other system management tools such as Tivoli etc.

"It was a bit of a marketing blunder [to call it 5.5] as this is such a significant release, we should have called it 6.0 instead," admitted CEO Sumir Karayi. "It is our biggest release in the last three years."

"The new version can detect if a machine cannot go to sleep, something we call 'sleeplessness'," he told Techworld.

"We have found that with some XP and Vista machines, they do not go to sleep. Indeed, we have found that half of machines running XP or Vista once day should have gone to sleep, but haven't," he said. "Over a week, 90 per cent of machines are doing this."

"The reasons for this are complex," Karayi said. "It could be an application holding a machine awake, a device driver has stopped sleep, or the OS can get into a state where it just doesn't want to go sleep. We detect when a machine should have gone to sleep and hasn't." It notifies the sys admin of these insomniac desktops.

Karayi also pointed out that the new version of NightWatchman includes the concept of maintenance windows. "We found 3 and 8 per cent of machines are not in healthy state (by that we mean the machine cannot be remotely managed)," he said.

"This is often because of no patches, which means that machine will become progressively more unhealthy. We check the top thirty reasons why machine may not be healthy and we fix them automatically."

With maintenance windows, a system administrator can for example, decide that all desktops should wake up at 3am in order to patch themselves, and fix any problems that stops them being healthy. The machines then go to sleep again.

"The user comes in the next morning, and we can set the machine to wake up before the user comes in (it doesn't log it on though, just makes sure it is available)," said Karayi. The wakeup solution is the other half of NightWatchman (namely, 1e WakeUp).

There are important environmental considerations to shutting down machines left on overnight. Back in 2007, 1E estimated that over 31 million US-based office PCs were left switched on all night, wasting over half a billion dollars a year in energy costs.

NightWatchman is currently installed on 2.5 million PCs worldwide, across 1000 customers. Indeed, organisations such as HSBC and AT&T each have over 300,000 seats.

Pricing is tiered, depending on the number of seats. Rather than talk of pricing though, Karayi says that customers should consider that within six months, the software will pay for itself.

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