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Turned on all night

Why universty computers are always on

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When the lights go out in computer labs all over Halifax, and the last high-strung essay writer logs off and heads home for a few nightmares, the computers keep working.

"Most of the other computers that are left on in the computer centre run 24/7," says Dwight Fischer, assistant vice-president of Information Technology Services at Dalhousie. "So there's no shutting that down."

A King's College energy audit conducted by Dalhousie students in 2013 found the computers at King's can't be powered down at night because "the Final Cut editing software requires the internet to be off," and when you power down and then back up again the internet is automatically turned on–which is "a hassle." At all the schools, the machines are configured to go to sleep after a period of inactivity.

NSCAD's desktops are programmed to go into a deep sleep after one hour, but some labs are open to students 24/7, meaning the computers have to stay on. The school has made other moves to be more green, moving its servers off-campus to a data centre on Sackville Street. Tim MacInnes, director of computer services, says this saves energy on a much larger scale than individual computers. 

Saint Mary's senior IT director Perry Sisk says there are two reasons the university doesn't power down at night. "One is that they need to be able to wake up quickly in the case of when those students come in in the morning or when the class starts," he says.

"The other issue is we need to be able to push out updates to the systems to make sure that they are secure and that the virus checker is up to date and all the Windows patches are on them and those sort of things." Sisk says Saint Mary's computers are programmed to hibernate after 15 minutes of inactivity.

"The amount of power that they use to be hibernated is very, very small relative to when they are fully operational," says Sisk. "So this way we get the maximum amount of power reduction by hibernating–other than shutting them down–but we still have the ability to be able to keep them up-to-date."

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