Combine an overabundance of computing power with the natural inclination of corporate functionaries to launch useless “initiatives,” and you’ve got a toxic recipe.
Case in point: the company screensaver. Yes, I’m serious.
I was talking yesterday with the CIO of a pharmaceuticals firm. We were discussing grid computing’s potential for supporting the heavy-duty number crunching required in modern drug development. He said that while grids were theoretically attractive as a cheap means of harnessing lots of processing power, he faced a big roadblock: his company’s official screensaver. It turns out that the corporate communications department created an elaborate screensaver, complete with video clips featuring the CEO, to promulgate a “corporate values” program. Installed on all the company’s PCs, the screensaver sucks up the processing cycles that might otherwise be put to a productive use – like finding a cure for cancer.
Isolated problem? Apparently not. A second CIO, overhearing our conversation, said that his company, too, had a screensaver problem. The human resources department had put together a similarly graphics-intensive screensaver that was running on all the company’s PCs. By preventing monitors and processors from going to sleep, it was sucking up a ton of electricity. He also mentioned that a recent problem with sluggish server performance had been traced to geeky screensavers being run in the corporate data center.
I did some quick research on the electricity issue. A PC with a screensaver going can use well over 100 watts of power, compared with only about 10 watts in sleep mode. An analysis by the University of New Hampshire indicates that if an organization has 5,000 PCs that run screensavers 20 hours a week, the annual power consumed by those screensavers “accounts for emissions of 750,000 pounds of carbon dioxide, 5,858 pounds of sulfur oxide, and 1,544 pounds of nitrogen oxide.” Considering that there are something like 600 million PCs in use today – and that it’s not unusual for people to leave screensavers running all night – we’re talking some big, ugly numbers.
So turn off those damn screensavers. The life you save may be your own.