Sunday, July 20, 2008

Switch off the light when you are not in the room, John!

The machinations of governments never cease to amaze me. This week I read a stunning article---stunning to anyone whose mother told them to switch off lights when they are not in the room---about UK government plans to green its IT.

The article, entitled Whitehall to become carbon neutral with aid of smart PCs, contains statements to make the eyes of any regular computer user water:

The proposals, including desktop computers that switch themselves off if they are inactive for too long, are aimed at making energy consumption from all of Whitehall's information and communication technology carbon neutral by 2012.


"Turning off every desktop PC in central government for the 16 hours that fall outside the standard working day could save up to 117,500 tonnes of CO2 per year," a Cabinet Office briefing document says.

Wait a minute. So when a central government civil servant goes home he just gets up and walks away from their computer leaving it on for the next 16 hours. Wow. The actual briefing document has more information on the radical proposal: Greening Government ICT (BTW If you have a hard time reading that link it's because the UK government decided that a suitable file extension for a PDF is .ashx).

There are a number of things that are pretty amazing about this:

1. The government's own guidelines for consumers (see here) start with Turn off your appliances – don’t leave them on standby.

2. Computers have had this new found 'smart PC' ability for 16 years. Intel's nice document on the history of power management lays it out pretty clearly. The first power management functionality was defined 1992 (called APM 1.0) and introduced by Microsoft in Windows 3.1. The really advanced version of power management was introduced in 1997 (ACPI 1.0). So the UK government has had between 11 and 16 years to make their machines shut themselves off.

3. The document also proposes reducing the use of screensavers. There's nothing wrong with screensavers if you are doing power management in the first place. You can have a few minutes of screensaver and then the power management kicks in and shuts off the display, or shuts down the machine.

4. Even if you weren't awake for the last 16 years of power management innovation you could have just followed your mother's advice and turned the computer off when you went home. How hard is that?

It really only leaves me with one possible explanation: civil servants don't know how to turn their PCs on, so they have to be left on all night.

The article also states a typical government solution to the problem:

A government source told the Guardian that a centralised system would switch off computers detected as inactive.

Huh? I can understand centralized management of settings, but why can't a computer just do its own detection of whether it's idle or not? (This is possibly just a journalist not understanding the details).

There's also a security implication to all this. If PCs are left on all night, are civil servants actually logging off?



Blogger Lazlo Nibble said...

It really only leaves me with one possible explanation: civil servants don't know how to turn their PCs on, so they have to be left on all night.

Well, here's another: they're left on overnight so the IT folks can push patches and updates.

The security risk of people going home without logging off can be mitigated by setting a group policy rule that locks the system after ten or fifteen minutes of idle time. The security risk of running your government on a network of unpatched Windows desktops...well, it's your tax money...

9:01 PM  
Blogger John said...

Observation - public servants are classifiable - like spam, I guess.

We have those that arrive extremely early, and do bugger-all other than socialising with their like-minded early-rising brethren and of course congratulating themselves for getting in early.
Those that arrive on-time, or a tad late, who generally start work immediately.

The latter don't want to wait an eternity (to them) for their PC to Boot. They know, implicitly, that someone's been updating stuff over-night, and if there's to be a problem, it will surely surface at boot-time.

The former group won't actually fire up their PC's for work purposes until after the latter group arrives anyway, since that's when they're required to look busy.

Same problem set for them:-)

There's a lot to be said for 'thin clients', next.

5:18 AM  

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