If you stop to think about it for a second, antivirus specialists like Symantec and McAfee seem born to manage energy consumption.

These companies already enjoy a trusted brand name with the vast majority of the computer-owning public, and generally it's a positive association. They don't engender the sort of conflicting emotions that Microsoft or Google can. During a virus outbreak, consumers are glad they own the software.

More importantly, these companies already have a persistent relationship with consumers. Adobe and Firefox send out updates occasionally, but the timing is irregular and generally the upgrades are optional. By contrast, antivirus companies contact consumers on a regular basis, and you need what they are pushing down the pipe. Very few people refuse a patch. The infrastructure required to add desktop management on top of those services seems like it would be minimal. Because of the ongoing relationship, the incremental costs (and fees) for adding energy management could be quite small, or at least small enough to chase away other would-be competitors.

Symantec, in fact, has already begun to sell tools for energy management. In 2007, it bought Altiris, a developer of software for managing corporate computing assets, for approximately $830 million. Although Altiris was mostly known for its security offerings, its management console also includes energy management functions, says Jose Iglesias, Symantec, the vice president of global solutions. (Disclosure: Iglesias and I will appear on a panel on Green IT sponsored by SiliconFrench on Thursday night in Palo Alto.)

These energy management tools largely perform the same functions as the tools from Verdiem, which claims it can save large companies $30 to $60 per desktop. Verdiem is an independent company, but it works closely with Cisco. (Iglesias would not disclose how many customers use Altiris.)

Symantec has also been marketing tools for data center operations. It has developed tools, for instance, that can take prioritize data and push it toward the least energy-consuming storage systems. Tier one storage, which consists of rapidly spinning disks that store data mostly on the edge of platters, can consume eight times as much energy as tier two storage devices and 64 times as much as the more passive disks in tier three storage systems. Data center managers tend to put more data in tiers one and two than they need to: ideally, automation tools can prevent that without causing lags in data access.

The company has also developed tools to cluster applications more compactly on servers.

Energy, Iglesias added, remains a huge concern for data center managers. In a survey conducted by the company last year, Symantec noticed that a growing number of companies are collapsing the energy budget into the IT budget, forcing CIOs to weigh a tradeoff between energy and equipment.

One of the tougher challenges the security companies might face, though, could be in marketing. Not many people think of them in this light yet. Then again, two years ago few people looked at AT&T, Verizon and Comcast as smart grid providers. Now all of the broadband players are cranking up strategies to help control household energy consumption.