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University Communications

Chuck Carney
School of Education

Last modified: Tuesday, June 16, 2009

'Green computing' project points to potential for energy savings

June 16, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A pilot project carried out by IT staff of the Indiana University School of Education produced impressive energy savings from putting desktop computers into "sleep mode" when they were not in use.

Education Technology Services

Steve Schunk (front) and Larry Riss

Print-Quality Photo

Now information technology managers at other IU offices are looking into making similar efforts, which have the potential for saving hundreds of thousands of dollars for the university.

"This gifted and dedicated team of 'green IT' innovators has shown that desktop computer energy use can be cut nearly in half with virtually no impact on the user for a relatively small initial investment," said Bill Brown, IU Bloomington director of sustainability. "If this can be scaled up to encompass the entire IU computing inventory, the return on investment may have everyone banging on IU's door to find out how it was accomplished."

Kristin Hanks, the Sustainable Computing graduate assistant with University Information Technology Services (UITS), coordinated obtaining metrics for the pilot and is managing the expansion of the project to other departments on campus. She worked closely with School of Education IT staff members Larry Riss, director of Education Technology Services, and Steve Schunk, associate director for systems administration, as they developed innovative ways to save energy at the School of Education.

Riss and Schunk adjusted the Basic Input/Output System on desktop computers in the School of Education to cause them to go into a deep sleep mode, using almost no energy, after two hours and 15 minutes of continuous inactivity. To support the effort, they:

  • Started running system upgrades and installing security patches during the day instead of overnight, a change that caused no noticeable performance problems
  • Created a "Wake on LAN" program to enable employees logging onto School of Education servers at night to "wake" their computers remotely
  • Created "Go Green Gadget," a desktop gadget that computer users could download and use to track energy savings and resulting greenhouse gas reductions for themselves and the school.

They also created a Web site to explain the project and provide answers to general and technical frequently asked questions. The Web site can be found at:

Riss and Schunk said staff, faculty and students in the School of Education supported the project as the IT team worked through a few minor glitches. "We had tremendous cooperation throughout the school," Riss said.

The pilot project included a four-week study of energy use this spring, which showed promising results. When computers were put into sleep mode, energy consumption was reduced by 48.3 percent for a cluster of 11 desktop computers. Energy consumption dropped by 30.9 percent for a wing of offices on the fourth floor of the Wright Education Building.

Energy use for the entire Wright building dropped by between 3 percent and 6 percent during the project, despite increased overall traffic in the building at the end of the spring semester. Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning, along with lighting, mechanical equipment and other non-computer sources, accounted for most of the energy use in the building.

Based on those findings, Hanks estimated that computing changes across IU could save more than $500,000 a year in energy costs and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change, by more than 15,000 tons a year.

She credited Riss and Schunk with taking the lead in implementing the pilot project, and she said IT managers in other university offices and academic units are exploring ways to similarly reduce energy use for computing.

"Many departments have well over 500 machines that could be set up to achieve these savings, so the potential for carbon reduction and financial gains are huge," Hanks said.