UK Academics Launch Open Source PC Power Saver

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The University of Liverpool’s PowerDown can shut down idle PCs, saving users thousands of pounds.

UK academics have developed an open source PC power management system which is already helping to save large organisations thousands of pounds in monthly electricity costs, researchers claim.

The University of Liverpool Computing Services Department has announced this month that its PowerDown software has already allowed the organisation to avoid the power costs of around 24 million hours of PC inactivity.

The system works by automatically shutting down PCs after a period of inactivity and was developed partly in response to the huge amounts of power wasted by idle machines in the University’s 24 hour library.

The Liverpool team estimated that leaving PCs on in its libraries overnight created more than one million hours of unused computer power each month. Around 1,600 library-based PC’s used around 20,000 kW each week unnecessarily – equating to approximately £2,400 in current electricity prices.

Lisa Nelson, principle analyst from the University’s Computing Services Department, who developed the system, said that idle PCs cost organisations money not only in terms of wasted electricity but also costs associated with the heat produced by the machines.

“An average PC, left on for 24 hours a day but used for only 40 hours a week, uses around 17kW of electricity, of which 13kW is wasted,” she said. “That figure does not take into consideration other costs such as in air-conditioned buildings, where additional cooling is required to remove the heat created by active computers.”

PowerDown has been in development for around two years and has now been adopted by other academic institutions around the world according to Liverpool University. The PowerDown home page includes links to download the software, along with the PSTools utilities required to run it. “You may freely use, modify, and redistribute PowerDown, but you may not use it in a commercial product.” the page says. The University of Liverpool could not confirm whether it plans to make the system commercially available to businesses.

A recent report Managing Sustainable ICT in Further and Higher Education, from the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), cited the importance of tools such as PowerDown in helping to drive down the estimated £116m which academic organisations spend on ICT every year.

According to other research released this week by analyst Gartner, organizations that take advantage of power management functionality can expect to save $43,300 per year (£29,059) compared with an unmanaged 2,500-PC organization.

“Much attention on power consumption has focused on the data centre, but PC power consumption in an organisation can also be significant, especially given steadily rising electricity prices,” said Federica Troni, principal analyst at Gartner in a statement. “IT organisations should recognise that the greatest savings come from employing power management features.”