Questions and Answers about the BigFix power management program
in the School of Earth Sciences

Last revision December 5, 2011

Why use power management on my computer?

The university has announced significant initiatives to reduce energy use. The School of Earth Sciences, as announced by Dean Matson, is committed to sustainability programs. Implementing power management on all computers in our buildings helps to achieve these goals in a convenient and effective manner.

Computers are a significant part of total energy use at the university. The goal of power management is to reduce this energy use when the computer is inactive or idle, while maintaining responsiveness when the computer is needed again.

Laptop users are familiar with these power management features because they are used to prolong battery life. By enabling power management all the time for all computers, we can significantly reduce energy use. The savings in our building electric bills can be applied to academic programs.

But I already have sleep settings on my computer. Why use BigFix?

BigFix is primarily a security patch management agent that must be installed on all Windows and Macintosh PCs registered for use on the Earth Sciences network. But in addition to keeping your computer secure by automatically installing patches, we can leverage its ubiquitous presence to maintain consistent energy saver settings.

BigFix is a convenient and effective way to enable power management for those computers that have no energy saving settings at all. But it also has advantages over manual settings that the computer user may have already enabled.

The BigFix power management program will make consistent settings for all supported computers in the School. This means that users know what to expect on any computer and the CRC support team can more readily debug any issues related to power management.

BigFix checks every day to make sure the power management settings are still in effect. This prevents gradual erosion of energy savings as users "temporarily" disable power management for a special reason, but then forget to put it back.

Finally, the BigFix program will report the power management setting of all computers in the School to a central console. This gives us a good way to measure how effectively we are saving energy on computer systems school-wide. There is no way to centrally measure manually enabled energy savings.

When my computer is inactive, how soon does BigFix power management start up?

This table shows how long the computer must be inactive before monitor or computer sleep starts under the two different BigFix power management settings. "Inactive" means that no keyboard or mouse activity is detected during the time shown. When you use the mouse or keyboard, you "reset the timer".

Setting Monitor sleeps (goes blank) Entire computer sleeps
After 10 minutes inactive
(5 minutes on battery power)
After 30 minutes inactive
(20 minutes on battery power)
After 15 minutes inactive
(10 minutes on battery power)
Never when on building power
(after 30 minutes inactive on battery power)
Press a key or move the mouse to wake from the sleep setting.

What are the possibly disruptive effects of the Stanford Green setting?

By putting the entire computer to sleep when inactive for more than 30 minutes, the preferred Stanford Green setting saves far more energy than Stanford Yellow. However, it can interfere with programs or tasks that are running but don't require any keyboard or mouse interaction. Power management generally doesn't realize that the computer is still "busy" unless the mouse or keyboard are being used.

Here are some examples of computer uses that can be disrupted by putting the computer to sleep in the Stanford Green power management setting. If these scenarios, or others like them, apply to your computer, the Stanford Green setting may interfere with your work. If it does, you can change your power management setting to Stanford Yellow, which does not put the computer to sleep, only the monitor. Remember, only CRC supported office computers in Mitchell or Geology Corner are automatically configured to the Stanford Green setting.

  • You start a long running program, such as a long Matlab calculation, and then leave the computer alone. Because there is no keyboard or mouse activity, the computer may appear to be inactive after 30 minutes and power management will put it to sleep. This will interrupt your program and prevent it from finishing.

  • You leave your office computer on at night so you can remotely connect into it from home, using, for example, ssh, Remote Desktop (Windows), or Connect to Server (Mac OS X). But 30 minutes after you leave the office, power management will put the computer to sleep because there has been no mouse or keyboard activity. Depending upon the computer model, the remote connection may fail to wake up the computer.

  • You have setup a personal backup system that runs at a set time during the night. Again, power management will put your computer to sleep 30 minutes after you leave the office and the backup system is not likely to run. This scenario does not apply to the School's CrashPlan Pro backup system for faculty and staff, which runs frequently during the day.

Are some computers automatically configured for BigFix power management?

Yes, it is School of Earth Sciences policy to automatically enable BigFix power management on Stanford-owned Windows and Macintosh computers that are inventoried and supported under the School of Earth Science's contract with the Computer Resource Consulting group of ITS. These computers all have a red and white barcode sticker (see sample at right).

The vast majority of computers in the Energy Resources Engineering department are not supported by CRC and will not be automatically configured for BigFix power management.

BigFix power management is not automatically configured on personally-owned computers, and does not apply to servers and Linux systems.

The School policy is to apply the Stanford Yellow BigFix power management setting as a base level on all CRC supported computers schoolwide. Supported office computers in Mitchell Earth Sciences and Geology Corner are automatically upgraded to the Stanford Green setting to save more energy as part of the Building Level Sustainability Project for those two buildings. See setting definitions, above.

Implementation of automatic BigFix power management began on July 14, 2010. Some computers may have been missed in the initial rollout.

Should I use BigFix power management on my personally-owned computer?

Yes! Using BigFix power management on your personally-owned computer that you bring to the office will help achieve the School's energy-saving goals in a measurable way. If you have registered your personally-owned computer on the Earth Sciences network, you have already installed BigFix. All you need to do is choose your energy-saving setting. Remember, you can "opt-out" at any time.

If you have removed BigFix, or registered your computer in the campus residence halls where BigFix is not required, then you will need to install it to participate in the School's power management program. Get BigFix from the Essential Stanford Software website:
      Get BigFix client for Windows PCs
      Get BigFix client for Mac OS X

How can I set BigFix power management settings myself or "opt out"?

If your computer has been automatically configured for BigFix power management, you can change the setting as needed. If your computer is not automatically configured, you are encouraged to enable BigFix power management yourself and participate in the School's sustainability programs.

There are circumstances where the automatically applied BigFix power management settings may interfere with your work. For example, as noted above, the Stanford Green setting may interrupt long running programs or remote connections to your office computer.

As another example, supported laboratory computers are set to the Stanford Yellow setting because they often need to run programs continuously to control or monitor instruments. In this case, the monitor will go to sleep after 15 minutes of inactivity, but the program will keep running. This is usually good enough, because you can wake up the monitor at any time to check program status. But if you need to have the monitor on all the time so you can glance at it at any time to check experiment status, then you should switch to the Stanford Red level, which "opts out" of the program completely. Conversely, if the laboratory computer is only used for short term tasks, with no long-running programs, it could save more energy by switching to the Stanford Green setting.

You may try the Stanford Green setting on your personal computer but decide that it is too aggressive and thus want to switch to Stanford Yellow, or vice-versa.

To change the BigFix power management setting for a CRC supported computer, or to enroll your personal computer in the program, simply download and run the Stanford Power Management Tool:
      Get Power Management Tool for PCs running Windows 7 or later
      Get Power Management Tool for Mac OS X 10.6 or later

Clicking on one of the links above should download the tool to your computer. It may open up another window or tab that prompts you to login first with your SUNet ID. Look in your normal downloads location (browser-dependent) to find and run the tool. You must have adminstrative rights on your computer to run the tool.

I can't get the Stanford Power Management Tool to work. How do I get help?

If you cannot get this tool to work, you can get help from our CRC consultants to change your power management settings. Put in a request on the HelpSU web site. Select Computers, Handhelds (PDAs), Printers, Servers from the Request Category drop-down menu. Then select Computer (desktop, laptop) from the Request Type drop-down menu. In the Request Description field, specify that you want to change the BigFix power management setting for your computer, but can't get the Power Management Tool to work. Give the desired setting - one of Stanford Green, Stanford Yellow, or Stanford Red. Include your building and room location and the number from the red and white CRC barcode sticker on the computer (if you have one). That number begins with 0708... and looks like the sample to the right.

Will BigFix power management still put my laptop to sleep if I take it home or into the field?

Yes. The BigFix management agent changes the power management settings on your computer and they stay in effect no matter where you use the computer.

My laboratory computer needs to run all the time. Will BigFix power management affect it?

Laboratory computers in Earth Sciences that are supported by CRC (have the inventory sticker) are automatically included in the BigFix power management program. They are set to the Stanford Yellow setting. This setting only puts the monitor to sleep when the computer is inactive. Simply moving the mouse or pressing a key will bring the monitor image back if it has gone to sleep. This setting never puts the entire computer to sleep (except for laptops on battery power) so it will not interrupt any running programs or network connections.

This power management setting should be appropriate for almost all laboratory computers, many of which are used to control or monitor instruments. In the rare case that the monitor simply must stay on all the time, you can change your BigFix power management setting to Stanford Red and thus "opt out" of the program.

Will I have to enter a password to wake-up my monitor or computer after BigFix puts it to sleep?

Requirements to enter a password to wake up the computer are not affected by this BigFix power management system. That is, if you currently need to enter a password to wake up the computer from sleep mode, that will continue. If you don't need a password now, you won't need one after BigFix power management is enabled.

If BigFix power management puts my computer to sleep, will it still get backed up?

If your computer is configured for BigFix power management at the Stanford Green setting, if will go to sleep if idle. Nevertheless, it will still be backed up if you are using the School of Earth Sciences' CrashPlan Pro backup system (for faculty and staff) or an Internet based system such as Iron Mountain or Mozy, or the Time Machine backup system built into Mac OS X.

These backup systems all run frequently and backup files as they are changed. They don't wait until the middle of the night or other set time to backup files. So by the time your computer goes to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity, these programs should be done backing up any files you have recently changed.

On the other hand, if you have your own custom backup system that runs at a set time every day or night, it might not run if the computer has gone to sleep. In this case, either change your backup system to run during a time when the computer is normally active, or change your BigFix power management setting to Stanford Yellow, which does not put the computer to sleep, only the monitor.

Can I temporarily disable BigFix power management?

If you have administrative rights on your computer, you can manually change (or disable) your energy saver settings to override BigFix power management, but your change will only last for the rest of the day.

BigFix power management works by changing your normal system settings - the same ones you can set manually. However, BigFix makes those changes using the administrative account, so you need to have administrative privileges to override them.

Furthermore, BigFix checks every day to see if the power management settings are still correct - if not, it fixes them. This check is done at 4 am every day, or as soon thereafter as the computer is turned on. So any change you make manually is "undone" the next day.

You can permanently change your BigFix power management settings.

Comments or Questions?