How much electricity does your home IT use?

Last month I commented on minimising man’s effect on the planet and, whilst I’m in favour of reducing carbon emissions, much is being made of a few high-profile but relatively low-impact issues and governments are doing little to tackle the little things that can really make a difference.

One of those things we can all do is to examine the amount of electricity that we use – because there is direct link between electricity generation and carbon emissions (and, here in the UK, we have precious-little hydro- and solar-powered infrastructure so much is being made of wind, which is inefficient and variable, so still needs to be backed up with a firm source of energy – generally coal, gas or nuclear).

I imagine that, as IT administrators and enthusiasts, many of this blog’s readers have a collection of devices running a home IT infrastructure that would be more suitable for a small business. Back in January I bought a small server to migrate the workload away from my many PCs but my (capped rate) electricity bill has still risen – largely because I haven’t yet managed to move the workload away from the old kit that is destined to be turned off. Even if you don’t have a stack of IT kit running in your garage/cupboard-under-the-stairs-which-acts-as-the-home-data-centre, the chances are that you work from home sometimes – saving money and the reducing the emissions caused by travel – but distributing your employer’s energy usage across many homes (meanwhile the lights are still on and the air-con is still running back in the office).

So how much power does your IT use? Well, armed with a simple power monitor from Maplin, this is what I found:

Device Power (“on”) Power (“off”) Power (“standby”)
10 year-old PC (Compaq DeskPro EN6350: Pentium 3, 512MB RAM, 20GB HDD) 44W 5W
5 year-old PC (Compaq Evo D500: Pentium 4 1.7GHz, 512MB RAM, 20GB HDD) 50-100W 3-4W
Modern notebook PC (Apple MacBook: Intel Core 2 Duo 2.2GHz, 4GB RAM, 320GB HDD) 22W 1W
Server (Dell PowerEdge 840: Quad-core Intel Xeon 2.13GHz, 8GB RAM, 1.1TB storage) 100W 10W
15″ LCD Monitor 25W 1W 1W
20″ LCD monitor 42W 2W 2W
Inkjet all-in-one printer/fax/scanner/copier (HP OfficeJet 6310) 8W (16W when printing)
Laser printer (HP LaserJet 2200dn) 10W (600W when printing)
Fast Ethernet Switch (3Com 3300) 45W
Gigabit Ethernet Switch (Cisco 3750) 65W
Unmanaged Ethernet hub (NetGear EN108) 2W
Unmanaged Gigabit Ethernet switch (NetGear GS108) 5W
Desk lamp 25W 1W
Nokia mobile phone charger 3W 0W
24″ CRT Widescreen TV 80W (average) 2W 4W

MaplinI’m no electrical engineer but there are some surprises there for me. My mobile phone charger doesn’t use any power when it’s not charging (contrary to popular belief) but it seems my desk lamp does! Turning off my monitors at night seems to make no difference to their power draw, so I should really remove the plug from the socket (as should I for the TV). Meanwhile my recent switch from a laser printer to an inkjet might save some power (depending on the amount of printing I do) but what about the environmental cost of all those ink cartridges? As for the networking kit – my unmanaged switches are not only fanless (i.e. silent) but they use significantly less power too.

Of course, not all devices are equal. When I last visited my Grandmother, I was alarmed to find that her television was still “on” when it was on standby – the screen was off but I could still hear the sound being broadcast on the last channel she had been watching. And my 10-year-old Sony Trinitron Widescreen CRT TVs are probably more efficient than today’s 100Hz High Definition LCD displays – they’ll probably last longer too, which is why I’m not getting rid of them just yet.

As for that pile of PCs running a “data centre” in the garage, it seems that my new server is reasonably efficient in comparison but it will still draw 2.4kWh a day – at around £0.15 per unit (it’s not that simple because some units are charged at a lower rate than others) that’s costing me £0.36p a day. That doesn’t sound much until you realise that works out as £131 a year if the server is running 24×7 – and that equates to 0.377 tonnes of CO2 [source: Carbon Footprint]. It looks like I’d better get out and plant some more trees…

So, regardless of whether or not you believe in “green IT”, you can save some money by switching off some of this kit when it’s not in use. Modern operating systems have power-saving options – and technologies like Wake On LAN (WOL) allow us to bring a device back online when it is required. You need to apply some common sense too – turning off the VCR at the mains socket won’t let the device do what it is intended to do (i.e. record TV programmes) but does the microwave in the kitchen need to be on all the time just to run a digital clock (another 2W)?

If you can’t get your head around saving the planet – forget the “greenwashing” and think about saving some money instead.

Calling all photographers – stand up for your rights

For a while now, it’s become increasingly difficult to take photographs without suspicion and stories like the one of the father-of-three who was branded a pervert for photographing his own children in public park are extremely alarming. Admittedly this story was reported in the Daily Mail (a fine example of balanced reporting – not!) but nevertheless it is a perfect example of political correctness gone mad.

I’m a parent too and I have to admit that I am always very self-conscious when I photograph my children playing with their friends. Thankfully, their parents take no issue (indeed some find it strange that I even check with them first). I even have some great pictures of my kids that were taken by other people. But unfortunately it’s all too easy to accuse someone of wrong-doing – generally being a pervert or a terrorist – and the authorities will generally act first and reason later.

There are very few restrictions on taking photographs in public places but it won’t take long for that to change. Indeed, the current UK Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith has stated in a letter to the National Union of Journalists that:

“[…] there is no legal restriction on photography in public places […and…] there is no presumption of privacy for individuals in a public place.”

That’s sounds good until she continues by writing:

“Decisions may be made locally to restrict or monitor photography in reasonable circumstances. That is an operational decision for the officers involved based on the individual circumstances of each situation.”

Basically, she’s said that it’s not illegal but that the authorities will act if they feel it is appropriate and that, even though Chief Constables will issue guidance, the decision is down to local officers.

I spent a large chunk of my formative years watching trains and, whilst I realise that the social stigma that is attached to such activities will make readers think I’m weird now, that’s practically outlawed these days (the police will soon move people on who are seen hanging around a major railway station). Then, when I flew to the States last year, I took some pictures of aeroplanes at Heathrow (my young son has only seen them high in the sky – he had no idea what the plane Daddy was going to fly on looked like) – thankfully no-one tried to stop me but it won’t be long before that is considered a security risk.

The UK Government’s petitions site is little more than a publicity exercise but nevertheless it is an opportunity to demonstrate the strength of public feeling on this. If you are a UK citizen and you would like to see a public statement on clarifying the law as it relates to photography then I urge you to sign the e-petition on Photography Law:

Through history, we have documented the world around us, whether through written word, art or photography.

Photography in particular has provided fantastic insights into the past and present, and is a hobby enjoyed by millions of people worldwide.

But today, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to take photos of our surroundings, particularly in cities like London.

In recent years, the price divide between professional and consumer equipment has blurred, and it’s quite common these days to see amateurs and hobbyists carrying around tripods, SLR cameras and a backpack full of equipment.

Yet, we are constantly harrassed [sic] by security guards and police officers in the name of preventing terrorism. They seem to be operating under a different interpretation of the law to the rest of us, believing that somehow the length of your lens, or size of your camera is relevant.

We would like clarification by the goverment [sic] on the law regarding photography of buildings and landmarks from public locations.

If you don’t, then you’ll only have yourself to blame when the current power-hungry administration forces through the next phase of nanny state laws that restrict an individual’s ability to capture a photograph in a public place.

Windows Server User Group UK on LinkedIn

LinkedIn logoLast year, Scotty McLeod set up the Windows Server User Group UK with the intention of creating a lively discussion area (backed up with regular meetings) for UK-based IT Professionals who are interested in the development of the Windows Server platform. Unfortunately, Scotty was involved in a serious accident at the start of the year and, whilst he is making a fantastic recovery, it’s going to take a while longer yet.

With no administrative access to the user group website, we have no way of finding out who our members are and no way to contact each other should we do what we talked about at the community day in April (was that really 3 months back?) – namely to start to organise some events. So, I’ve created a LinkedIn group to supplement the user group website. If you’re interested in Windows Server and would like to take part in future user group events, please join the Windows Server User Group UK on LinkedIn.

Once we have a quorum, then I’ll be in touch to try and get the ball rolling for some meetings.

Comparison between Hyper-V and the Xen hypervisor in RHEL

Even though choosing a hypervisor is only a small part of implementing a virtualisation strategy, much has been written about how Microsoft Hyper-V compares to VMware ESX – and there are some fundamental differences between those two products. Architecturally, Hyper-V has a lot more in common with the Xen hypervisor (although they are not identical) and indeed XenSource worked with Microsoft to provide Linux support for Hyper-V and I’ve recently been alerted to the presence of a short white paper which compares Hyper-V and the Xen technology implemented in Red Hat Enterprise Linux (the leading Linux distribution, which is not currently on the list of supported guest operating systems for Hyper-V). Despite being published by Microsoft, it seems to me to give a balanced view between the two products, although it should also be noted that Red Hat has announced it will be switching from Xen to KVM for future virtualisation support.

Photoshop Velvia

Back in the days when I used to shoot my photos on film, my preferred slide emulsion was Fujifilm Velvia (RVP). With strong colour saturation (particularly green) this film is particularly good for landscape work and, ever since I switched to digital, I’ve felt that there was some “punch” missing from my landscapes.

Then I came across episode 19 of This Week in Photography, in which the subject of creating Photoshop actions is demonstrated using “Scott’s Photoshop Velvia”. I tried it out today and it really works.

  1. Take an image and create a duplicate layer (in the process giving yourself the ability to return to the original at any time).
  2. Next, use the Channel Mixer on each of the three colour channels (red/green/blue) as follows:
    • Red channel: R 118% G -9% B -9%
    • Green channel: R -9% G 118% B -9%
    • Blue channel: R -9% G -9% B 118%
  3. Finally, adjust the contrast by tweaking the curves to produce a very slight S shape.

Here’s one of my images before and after the Photoshop Velvia treatment was applied:

Without Photoshop VelviaWith Photoshop Velvia

Hopefully you can see that the second image appears much more vibrant than the first.

Photoshop CS3 users can download the Photoshop Velvia custom action, but please note there is no warranty implied, no support, and you use it at your own risk. Thanks are due to Scott Bourne for demonstrating this – it really is a great Photoshop tip.

(anti-)Social networking

So, last night I was in the pub with Richard, Stuart and Alex and the conversation turned to Facebook. I felt like some sort of social leper as, until then, I hadn’t responded to the various Facebook requests that I’ve received and the extent of my online social networking was LinkedIn – which is a professional networking site – in fact I think the word pretentious was used by someone (a little harsh I feel).

Anyway, I’ve done it. I’m now on Facebook, and I wasted a good chunk of this afternoon there. I suppose it will be Twitter next (although I still don’t see the attraction there).

So if you are reading this blog and you know me personally then I’d be happy to hook up with you as a friend on Facebook (after all, social networks get pretty lonely if there is no-one there to socialise with). But, just as for my LinkedIn profile (where I only accept invitations from people I know, have worked with, and would be happy to work with again), I won’t accept invitations on Facebook from people I don’t consider to be friends – it’s amazing how many people think I would like to link to them because we work at the same company (even though we have never had any interaction).

Bah humbug!

Microsoft’s Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool has been released

One of the problems associated with virtualisation is “virtual sprawl” – the proliferation of virtual machines (which can totally negate the idea of “server consolidation” if not carefully controlled. Management becomes critical – and a key part of that management is patching virtual machines to keep the operating system and applications up to date.

But what about the virtual machines that exist as offline images (templates, test and development machines, etc.)?

I’ve written previously about the beta of Microsoft’s offline servicing tool for virtual machine images and last week it was completed and released to the web.

The Offline Virtual Machine Servicing Tool works with System Center Virtual Machine Manager and, according to Microsoft, it “combines the Windows Workflow programming model with the Windows PowerShell interface to bring groups of virtual machines online just long enough for them to receive updates from either System Center Configuration Manager 2007 or Windows Server Update Services. As soon as the virtual machines are up-to-date, the tool returns them to the offline state in the Virtual Machine Manager library”.

There’s an executive overview on the Microsoft TechNet site and the tool can be downloaded from the Microsoft website.

Using packet level drivers for MS-DOS network connectivity

One of the reasons to use Windows PE for operating system deployment is that it’s built on a modern version of Windows so, at least in theory, driver support is less of an issue than it would be using MS-DOS boot disks.

Even so, there are still times when a good old MS-DOS boot disk comes in handy and networking is a particular pain point – NDIS drivers are a pain to configure so packet-level drivers are often useful for operating system deployment tasks (but not optimised for anything more substantial). Available for many of the more common Ethernet cards, they are generally 16-bit utilities for MS-DOS and so will not work in 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems.

As this is not exactly cutting edge technology, many of the useful sites are starting to drop off the ‘net (but a surprising number remain) – here’s a few links I found that might come in handy:

Tracking down the Control Panel applet for Mail in 64-bit Windows

At long last (and not before time), my corporate mail account has just been moved across to an Exchange Server 2007 system with Outlook Anywhere enabled. Unfortunately, I sold my Apple iPhone (which now has Exchange ActiveSync support) last week but I will be getting a new one at some time soon and there are many other benefits too – like that I no longer have to run a 32-bit VM to VPN into the corporate network and access my e-mail; and that the 2007 version of of Outlook Web Access is a huge step forward (even the “light” version for non-Microsoft and legacy browsers).

So, now that I can access Exchange from my 64-bit Windows Server 2008 workstation, I needed to configure an appropriate Outlook profile. Except that I couldn’t find the mail applet in Control Panel, and Outlook 2007 only seemed to present the account settings for the currently loaded profile.

Control Panel in 64-bit WindowsThen I noticed an innocuous icon in Control Panel, labelled View 32-bit Control Panel Items. Clicking on this exposed the Mail applet that is necessary in order to configure Outlook profiles.