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School Computers Can Be a Big Power Drain

Boulder Valley School District completed a one-year rollout plan to implement power management software in 10,000 PCs to improve sustainable efforts and cut costs.

by / April 27, 2011

Many kids don’t worry about powering down the computers they use at school when it’s time to go home. For that matter, some teachers don’t either.

Why worry about it? Think green.

Computers that are left on overnight can add up to thousands of dollars in extra energy costs — a big problem for public schools that are seeing budget freezes and looking for cost-saving measures. The waste can also sink a sustainability plan.

In Colorado, Boulder Valley School District officials think they have found a viable solution. The district completed a one-year rollout plan to implement power management software in 10,000 PCs to improve sustainable efforts and cut costs.

The school district — which educates 27,000 students and employs 4,000 staff — is responsible for 57 facilities within the communities of Boulder, Louisville, Lafayette, Erie, Superior, Broomfield, Nederland, Ward, Jamestown and Gold Hill. In 2009, the district created the Sustainability Management System, an initiative to incorporate sustainability into education and operations, said Ghita Carroll, the district’s sustainability coordinator. The system’s plan is outlined in a 167-page report.

“When we started implementing our Sustainability Management System, one of the first things we did was to work with our IT department,” she said. “We looked to see what the technology options were.”

According to the school district’s CIO, Andrew Moore, computers were wasting a significant amount of energy.

“Our community is green oriented and felt that too many resources were being wasted by idle computers using too much energy,” he said in a statement. “Previously district computers were left on in full-power mode 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

After a series of energy audits and assessments, the district’s IT department and Office of Sustainability decided to implement software, called Verismic Power Manager, that remotely shuts down school computers when they’re not in use. Through a single interface, the district’s IT department controls the power settings for all 10,000 PCs.

Carroll said policies were set up so different computers can shut down at different times.  An administrative computer might turn off at a different time than a computer in the school library.

Mike Jager, Verismic’s global consulting services manager, said the software monitors a PC’s policy for its prearranged shutdown time. For example, if a computer is scheduled to power down after 15 minutes of inactivity at 7 p.m., the software ensures that it will power down even if the computer’s operating system fails to do it.

Jager said “OS insomnia” — caused when a computer’s operating system doesn’t shut down the computer at a scheduled time — is fairly common. The power management software can act as a second line of defense.

“If the PC does not go down at 7 p.m., our agent will kick in and say, ‘You’re delinquent; you have missed that shutdown setting at 7 p.m., and you have been inactive. Therefore, we’re going to shut you down now.’ And we initiate the shutdown,” Jager said.

Regularly scheduled power-downs are projected to not only reduce costs, but also to reduce the school district’s carbon footprint. According to the school district, PC power management is estimated to save $300,000 and reduce 3,670 tons of carbon dioxide a year.

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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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