Small Power Gains Add Up to Big Savings at Los Angeles Unified

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At the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has a highly publicized green initiative involving building design and vehicle fuel conversion, Vickie Frederick, director of network operations, is immersed in two pilot efforts. One involves reducing the power draw of computers, and the other focuses on reducing the number of printers in use, to cut back on both power usage and toner usage.

The first initiative, while simple enough on the surface--getting people to turn off their machines while not in use--turns out actually to be rather involved. All new computers purchased by the district have to adhere to Energy Star standards. Energy Star is the same program that was launched in 1992 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy that originally set standards for energy-efficient computers and monitors but has now spread out to lighting, appliances, heating and cooling, and other electronics.

Imaging with BigFix
Those new computers are perhaps the easiest part of the effort, because they can be imaged appropriately before they reach users' hands. What's more challenging is getting a BigFix agent added to every other desktop in the district--around 250,000 by Frederick's estimate. BigFix is a network management platform for large enterprises. The agent software will allow Frederick's network team to communicate with and control those computers from a central location. That, in turn, will enable them to roll out power settings on the machines.

"We want to shut off the machines at night to save electricity and cost," Frederick said. "We want machines to spin down [and go into standby] during the day when they're not in use." The district is getting rebates from the power company for every school site completed in the program. Currently, about 30,000 installations have been finished.

The challenge, she explained, is that the network team can't touch all the computers in the district. "There's no central mandate that [users] can't touch their computers. They can change the password so we can't see [the computers], which means we can't get access to them. We can see it because we're getting a signal from it, but in a lot of cases, we can't push to it." So technicians are going out on site with an installation CD that takes about a minute or two to run, Frederick said. "We're trying to attack it from as many sides as we can."

Going Green (in Black and White) with Printers
The printer project currently involves a few floors worth of offices in the district's headquarters, where the number of printers has been reduced from 300 to 30. The network crew has installed an adapter that plugs in between the wall outlet and the printer to record energy usage. That allows the IT organization to baseline electrical usage.

"We have achieved a number of savings," said Frederick. That encompasses not just the energy savings from having fewer printers, but also from the use of black ink printers in place of color printers wherever possible. Color printers, she said, "are actually the least efficient, in terms of toner and power. You don't need to print out black and white documents on a color printer."

The district's new superintendent, who started in his position Jan. 1, 2009, has already approved the printer program to be rolled out more broadly. The network staff will start with eight local district offices, and then target other administrative offices, then schools last of all. "We don't want to impact instruction," she explained. By Jan. 1, 2010, she predicted, all 1,100 physical locations that are on the network will be running computers and printers more efficiently.

All the schools are in desperate need of budget, Frederick pointed out. "So we knew we had to come up with some efficiencies." But although cost was a driving factor for getting the projects going, she added, "saving the environment goes hand in hand with that."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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