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Tech Talk Live Blog

Why Paint your PCs Green

Brian Pool


Okay, paint your PCs, no.  I am of course talking today about saving your school district money through the proper implementation of green IT practices.  The amount of money you can save for your district depends on where you are now, and where you are willing to go.  I always recommend technology coordinators keep a running log of changes made for the benefit of their district. Most people (tax payers, administrators, and board members) will rarely look at the electric bill to see what impact you have on the bottom line.  When you save your district money, you add to your worth in your district, and improve the bottom line.

We started working on Green IT a few years ago when our school received a state grant to improve the energy rating of the district.  We dedicated funds to replace half of our old CRT monitors with LCD monitors.  We saw a 20,000 watt power reduction in the first month of usage and immediately decided to do the rest.  While the grant paid for these changes, we could have easily justified the new monitors with about 2.5 years of power savings.

Our larger consumers of power are the 500+ workstations around the district.  If you assume that every staff member shuts down their PCs when they leave for the day, you are probably very mistaken.  Walking around, I routinely found over 80% of our machines were left on.   I decided to add an Active Directory policy that shuts down any PC that has not been used in an hour, starting right after the school day ends.

Let’s explore the math and make some assumptions.  First, how much does the average PC use?  The Dell site (and we have a lot of Dells) says that the XPS 400 pulls between 149 (minimum) and 258 (maximum) watts of power when it isn’t asleep.  We will assume they are never asleep for our initial calculation, and use 200 watts as an average power draw.  Yearly cost would be $.09 (our KWh rate) * 200 (my assumed average wattage) * 24 (hours a day) * 283 (days from the first to the last day of school) / 1000 = $122.  A simple shutdown policy (changing it to 9 hours a day for 180 days) reduces that to $29, a savings of $46,500 for my 500 PC district.  Okay, you might not have that wattage, and MACs use less, and laptops even less, but there are some simple calculations you can do to see what impact this can have at your school.  This is the simplest and most cost effective Green IT change you can make.

Our Green IT change this year was to remove PCs altogether – an IT directors dream, less PCs.  Now I can play Minecraft all day!  Okay, I actually have never played Minecraft; I will leave that to my four sons.  We did however reduce over 150 PCs while adding over 40 workstations.  This year we took the leap into thin computing options.  I say leap, because I have not traditionally been a thin proponent, having previously tried a few failures on small scales.

Our high school needed to install a new lab in a recently vacated classroom to help support our blended learning initiative and upcoming PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing.  The building is fairly old and we had the electrical rewiring involved spec’d out at $7,500.  I decided to look for a lower power option to avoid the rewire if possible.  I found the reported draw of an nComputing lab was conducive with the existing electrical wiring in the classroom.  I contacted several other technology coordinators that had nComputing labs, who reported great outcomes.  One peer highly suggested a preconfigured solution from Firefly.  In the end we installed an nComputing L300 lab configured by Firefly.   In comparison, the cost of rewiring and a PC lab would have been more than double the cost of our installation. In addition, we calculated the power to be approximately $1,800 cheaper per year to run the new lab vs a PC option.  Another win-win, because our staff loves this lab!

Our final move this year was to try MultiPoint 2011 to replace our classroom mini-labs.  We picked a tech savvy teacher to pilot the system in the classroom to find any flaws before roll out.  We made several tweaks to get some of the older elementary school software running on these newer 64-bit machines.  We have now replaced every aging XP student workstation with a much more robust MultiPoint system.  The removal of these 150 PCs saved us several thousand more in electrical savings.

As we make our journey into the green, we do have to remember the balance between education and savings.  Any approach, pushed too far, could adversely affect performance and therefore the education of our students.  As technology leaders we need to remember that our primary customers are always the students and their teachers in the classrooms.  I try and remember that with each change as I try and make a positive impact in district savings.​

Brian Pool has been a Technology Coordinator for a rural school district in Ohio of approximately 1,100 students since 2003.  He has a BS in Systems Analysis from Miami University, Ohio and a MA from Salve Regina, Rhode Island.  He has been in IT with the Active Duty and Reserve United States Air Force and as a private IT contractor and programmer since 1994.  Brian is avid about technology integration in the classroom and has spoken at numerous state conferences on a variety of integration topics.

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