Founder of Adaptiva, Deepak Kumar, on Green-IT Strategy and Working with Microsoft
Seattle knows green—green trees, green ideas, and green innovation. As businesses rush to become more environmentally friendly, organizations like New York and London-based 1E and Seattle-based Verdiem have emerged as leaders in green-IT management. They offer systems that allow companies to cut off power to their computers remotely, saving energy and IT costs, and make decreasing a company’s environmental footprint as painless as possible. But only Woodinville, WA-based Adaptiva has built a system that integrates directly with the biggest software company in the world: Microsoft.
Adaptiva’s centerpiece is a product called Companion, a software extension that allows companies to control power usage based on when an individual computer is being used. It is run directly through Microsoft’s existing System Center Configuration Manager, which is a software product for managing large groups of Windows-based computers.
“Because we plug deeply into Microsoft’s management infrastructure, we didn’t have to build a management framework into our product,” Adaptiva chief technology officer and co-founder Deepak Kumar said. That means the product is cheaper, and easier to maintain, because as long as the Microsoft System Center software is working, Adaptiva’s product will work.
Powering down a computer may not sound like the cure for climate change, but in a company with hundreds of thousands of desktops, it takes a huge slice out of the carbon footprint. The trick is how to manage the green master switch. “Turning off computers remotely is very easy. The challenge is to detect which computers are actually not doing anything useful and turn them off selectively,” Kumar said.
Many companies wait until after hours to perform their maintenance tasks, so as not to disrupt their employees. This creates a Catch-22 when machines have been powered down and are unable to be updated with the rest of the network—something Kumar sees as a fundamental flaw. “The goals of IT are somewhat contrary with green-IT,” he said. “The second missing piece is the ability to turn on computers when those maintenance tasks are required.”
Adaptiva’s software gives administrators the ability to set parameters for automatically powering up and down, as well as network-wide maintenance schedules, without interrupting anyone’s work and risking the loss of data. There is also an add-on, called Green Planet, which allows individual users to customize their computer to save energy around their personal schedule.
“Users see value in it because now when they come in, the machine is already powered up and they don’t have to wait. And when they go away, the machine turns off safely,” Kumar said. “If they [admins] want to deploy a patch to 1,000 machines, they go create a policy in System Center to do that. We’ll read it from there and we figure out which 1,000 machines are required at what time and we’ll turn on those machines automatically.”
Adaptiva’s plug-in abilities make the system cheaper than others, but also limits its potential client list to companies that use Microsoft’s SMS 2003 or SCCM 2007. 1E and Verdiem, on the other hand, can sell to anyone, because they rely on their own built-in frameworks.
In addition, Microsoft has recently moved forward with a number of green initiatives, including adding similar power management capabilities to SCCM and sending chief environmental strategist Rob Bernard and his team to the climate talks in Copenhagen. Microsoft’s going green has created some concern that in-house developments could make Adaptiva’s product obsolete. “It is pretty clearly disappointing that Microsoft added those features to System Center. But they have kept us informed, and we have been shown that functionality,” Kumar said.
And he’s still confident his product offers more capabilities than the competition. “They [Microsoft] have provided some basic power management capabilities—very, very basic—and they will be sufficient for some of the customers, but not for all,” he said. “We continue to enhance and provide very high-end features, which meet the requirements of the larger side of the market. For example, the Microsoft built-in capabilities don’t provide adequate turning on/off of machines. So while you can turn off machines, you can’t really turn them on.”
Before founding Adaptiva in April 2004 with entrepreneur Peter Burnham, Kumar was a designer on Microsoft’s Systems Management Server 2003. And despite the slight overlap in product, the two companies are still very much corporate partners. “They keep us informed of their product plans, development milestones, and partnership opportunities. They also feature our products on their website and product guides,” Kumar said.
To ensure Adaptiva stayed up to speed, the startup spent the weeks before the release of Windows 7 testing and tweaking its products to blend seamlessly with the new operating system.
Kumar said he’s happy with the company’s growth. He and Burnham were the only initial investors, and unlike many startups, they were able to get up and running without any venture capital funds, turning profitable after just one year. Adaptiva currently has six employees, and plans to grow to 10 in January. “Going forward, we are going to invest more on the business side [sales and marketing]. We’ve traditionally been investing heavily in engineering,” Kumar said.
Adaptiva now serves a variety of companies around the world. Its smallest client, located on an island off British Columbia, has only 50 network computers; its largest is an insurance company with more than 200,000. And although Kumar admits the software might seem expensive to purchase and maintain— running between $10 and $12 per desktop, with an annual maintenance fee—he said it’s worth the investment.
“Usually green technologies involve spending money to save the environment,” Kumar said. “You buy expensive gas, or you buy more expensive power, or something which costs you more. Our green technology is an example of where you are actually saving the environment and saving money as well.”