Certero – PowerStudio review

Windows desktop power management
Photo of Certero – PowerStudio
£8.80 + VAT per seat (250 seats minimum)

One sure-fire way of saving money is to turn PCs off when they’re not being used. Windows even has built-in tools to help; for example, by powering off monitors, hard disks or even the whole PC after a given period of inactivity. Enforcing these controls across multiple PCs, however, takes time and effort and a lot of companies simply don’t bother. Which is where PowerStudio comes in, by both automating the process and reporting on the savings made.

Installation of the core PowerStudio server component takes just a few minutes, requiring Windows Server 2003 or later with Microsoft’s IIS server for the web-based management interface. SQL Server is also required, although the PowerStudio database isn’t overly large and we had no problems using the free SQL Server Express edition rather than a full install.

We also tried initially to run the management interface in a browser on the server, but that proved to be a bad idea. Mainly because Internet Explorer is heavily locked down on the Windows Server OS, plus you need Adobe’s Flash Player plug-in to view PowerStudio graphs. Switching to a browser on a remote PC skirted such issues and worked fine, although we did see a few glitches when we tried Google Chrome rather than IE or Firefox.

The interface, with its khaki-colour scheme, also took a little getting used to. However, it’s not particularly difficult to master, requiring around an hour of experimentation before we felt confident in how it worked for our tests.

One of the first things required is to deploy the PowerStudio client, and unlike some alternatives it’s Windows-only, with no support for either Apple Mac or Linux platforms. The Certero software is also limited to desktops and notebooks with no support for servers. On the plus side there’s support for all versions of Windows from 2000 to the latest Windows 7 release and we found the client very easy to push out using the built-in tools, which can discover new computers directly or via Active Directory. Installation is performed silently and we found the whole process very straightforward with facilities also provided to schedule further discovery runs to handle systems added later.

Once the clients have been deployed you can then start configuring power-saving profiles. These make use of the built-in Windows controls and can be applied to individual systems or groups, including specific OUs on an Active Directory network. Profiles can also specify different settings for working hours, weekends and so on and client PCs put into a variety of low-energy states. Of course that could cause problems, for example, if you want to distribute a new application or updates to the “switched off” PCs. So there’s support for Wake-on-LAN if available, plus the ability to specify specific power-up windows to handle this.

Users can also be empowered to put their PC into an always-on state (Certero calls this presentation mode) for up to 24 hours, to give presentations or take part in conferences without the screen being blanked or the system powered off. Plus there’s a user tool to remotely wakeup a PC and another to quickly recover any Office documents left open when Windows is powered down, a common issue with networked machines.

Another nice feature is the ability to involve users in the whole process, by awarding points for any additional power-saving activities and posting them on a league table that can be viewed from Windows taskbar. Users can also see details of the policy being applied from here, and switch their PCs into hibernation mode, re-boot, switch off and so on regardless of policy settings.

Having installed our clients and got comfortable with the interface, the temptation was, naturally, to start creating power management profiles straight away, but that’s not what Certero recommends. Rather, it suggests just monitoring power consumption for a while, then, using the Estimator tool provided, setting targets for what you’d like to achieve in the way of power saving. Suitable profiles can then be distributed and graphs and reports produced to see exactly what effect they’re having, typically by showing whether the targets are being met, how much energy is being saved, where the biggest savings are being made and so on.

Some preparatory work was needed before we could check this out, such as telling PowerStudio how much we paid for electricity and how much each type of PC consumed. However, it didn’t take long and we were quickly able to start viewing the results. Moreover you’re not tied to visualising savings solely in power or monetary terms, with options to show the gains in terms of reduced CO2 emissions or even equivalent coal, wood or water consumption

At just £8.80 + VAT per seat PowerStudio seems pretty cheap, however the minimum order is for 250 (£2,200 + VAT). Still, given the savings that can be made that’s not a lot, Certero claiming an average return on investment of just 4-5 months. Moreover, cost saving isn’t the only benefit. PowerStudio customers can also expect computer equipment to last longer and, for those keen to save the planet, a reduced carbon footprint as well.

Company: Certero

Contact: 01925 868970


Verdict
Simple to deploy and easy to manage, PowerStudio works by allowing network administrators to centrally enforce power controls on Windows desktops. This it does using profiles assigned to individuals, groups or Active Directory OUs, with comprehensive graphing and reporting tools also built in to see what the effects are. A points system and league table encourages users to get involved and there's a neat utility to re-open Office documents left disconnected when Windows is hibernated. It's Windows only, but works well and could easily pay for itself in just 4-5 months.