IT power-saving initiative could save Penn State $800,000 annually

May 17, 2011

University Park, Pa. — As electricity costs continue to skyrocket, executives around the country are searching for ways to reduce energy consumption and increase sustainability. At Penn State, a University-wide team has invested in software called BigFix to enable more efficient power management of computers. The software is part of an overarching systems management initiative that could reduce Penn State's power bill by about $800,000 annually.

While an institution's most substantial consumption of power usually is the heating and cooling of buildings, energy consumed by office equipment can contribute significantly to an organization's carbon footprint.

According to a recent report by Global Automation System Management, out of 104 million office PCs in the United States, at least 31.2 million are left on all night. A typical 10,000-computer enterprise could save more than $165,000 per year by powering-down all of their machines every evening. Nationwide, there is the potential to save $1.72 billion and nearly 15 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually in the U.S.

So, what are sustainability experts doing to solve the problem?

"Imagine a large computing facility at Penn State like Pollock lab," said Brian Katyl, systems design specialist at Penn State. "A lab that size has 125 computers, however all 125 computers only are used during peak times. BigFix enables IT staff to ensure the computers are in 'sleep mode' when they're not used, conserving large amounts of energy."

Katyl, who leads the Systems Management at Penn State initiative, said the philosophy behind the conservation project is simple: enable IT administrators to use BigFix software to place University computers into a low-energy sleep state when they're not in use while simultaneously empowering them to remotely “wake up” and manage the machines whenever this is needed. The initiative allows Penn State to provide IT administrators with the tools needed to more efficiently update systems and keep computers secure, yet saves significant dollars each month at the power meter.

As word spreads about Systems Management at Penn State, a number of departments and administrative areas already are sharing in the benefits, which include annual cost savings, one-time rebates and reduced carbon emissions. The software currently has been installed on 20,000 computers at Penn State. At top-efficiency, Katyl said the University could save at least $25 per computer per year, reducing Penn State's power bill annually by about $800,000 (the equivalent of preventing 60,000 tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere). Through the use of aggressive power management settings, Penn State's ultimate goal is to save $25 to $50 per machine per year.

"Deregulation has been pushing the University to look for ways to cut more than $2 million from Penn State's power budget," said Rob Cooper, director of energy and engineering at the Office of Physical Plant. "By using energy in a more efficient manner, we can reduce the impact of increasing power prices. Cutting energy waste is essential."

In addition to the potential energy savings, BigFix's streamlining capability appealed to faculty and staff in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, one of Penn State’s early adopters. Chuck Pavloski and Chad Bahrmann led the deployment of BigFix software on about 125 machines in the newly renovated Joel N. Myers Weather Center and other Meteorology department areas. The center is outfitted with high-end forecasting computers, a high-tech classroom and 36 workstations and monitors that showcase a variety of weather data and imagery, including live aerial images from major U.S. cities.

"We've been able to truly invigorate the research and academic experience of our students by giving them more uniform computer interfaces in our labs and IT classrooms, as a result of much more easily managed computing platforms," said Jeffrey Wolfe, information technology manager in Earth Mineral Sciences.

Wolfe said the combination of BigFix with the Cooperative Lab Management (CLM) initiative, a Penn State program that provides a streamlined computing environment for participating areas, has had multiple benefits. The strategy currently is being implemented on 2,500 computers in the college.

"Students, faculty and staff in our department have been experiencing a much more consistent computing environment, and there's a decrease in the amount of time IT staff need to spend supporting lab and classroom facilities," Wolfe said.

Katyl said departments that use the CLM service can save an average of $56 per machine per year because of its aggressive BigFix power management settings. Across the University there are about 6,100 machines that have the CLM service; he estimates the overall Cooperative Lab Management effort saves about $340,000 per year.

Currently, there are 25 administrative units participating in the Systems Management at Penn State initiative, with the opportunity for every University group to join in the effort. Areas such as Health and Human Development and the Smeal College of Business are excelling in using the technology to increase security and efficiency, while many other offices are showing interest in exploring power management options as a way to cut costs.

"Ideally, we want all of our departments and campuses to come together in this effort," said Ford Stryker, associate vice president for Physical Plant. "I encourage all students, faculty and staff to embrace the Systems Management at Penn State project and support the University's green initiatives."

BigFix was recently acquired by IBM and is now also referred to as the Tivoli End Point Manager (TEM). To learn more about the Systems Management initiative at Penn State, visit Additional information on Penn State's IT green initiatives is available at online.

To see photos associated with this story, visit online.

  • Graduate students in meteorology Ben Green, left, and Erin Munsell at the Joel N. Myers Weather Center in Walker Building on Penn State's University Park campus. Software designed to ensure the highly efficient operation of computers has been deployed on more than 120 machines in the Department of Meteorology. Click above for more photos.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated June 06, 2011