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UCSD Scientists’ Software Enables PCs to Work While They ‘Sleep’

Software primarily developed by scientist Yuvraj Agarwal allows desktop computers to operate while in sleep mode — a tool that could reduce energy consumption of administrative networks by approximately 60 percent and save organizations $60 per year per computer.

Dubbed SleepServer, the software performs basic tasks for personal computers while the desktops are in low-energy sleep mode. The project recently captured the attention of the San Diego Clean Tech Innovation and Commercialization Program, which supports commercialization of clean technology innovations developed at San Diego universities.

The program, a collaboration among the city of San Diego, local universities and private companies, awarded Agarwal and his adviser, Rajesh Gupta, $50,000 to commercialize SleepServer and shepherd the product from academia and research to the marketplace.

Agarwal conceived SleepServer in 2008 after realizing the high cost — in both energy and money — of keeping his computer on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“In today’s world, everyone wants to be able to access their work computer all the time, not just when they are in the office,” said Agarwal. “You never know when you will need to access your files and connect to your computer. But most of the time, the computers are idle, wasting energy and money.”

Tasks Performed in Sleep Mode

Agarwal, in conjunction with UCSD professors Gupta and Stefan Savage, tackled the problem by creating a lightweight virtual image of a sleeping computer that maintains connectivity to a network and responds to various applications. SleepServer carries on basic tasks for the computer while it is “sleeping,” such as downloading files and staying logged into instant messaging software. When more complex tasks are required, the software wakes up the computer.

During September 2009, the energy consumed by 30 of the 50 personal computers utilized in the SleepServer pilot program at UCSD dropped by 27 percent to 86 percent — when compared to leaving the computers on 24 hours, seven days a week.

According to Gupta, deploying SleepServer across his Department of Computer Science and Engineering at UCSD could save approximately $60,000 annually in direct energy costs.

From Academia to Enterprise

Agarwal and Gupta will use the Clean Tech funding, to be awarded over the course of one year, to refine the existing SleepServer product so that it crosses the gap between research academia and business enterprise.

According to Rosibel Ochoa, director of UCSD’s William J. von Liebig Center for Entrepreneurism and Technology Advancement — a partner in the Clean Tech Innovation and Commercialization Program — this can be a daunting task.

“There is a funding and culture gap between successful research and creating a profitable product,” said Ochoa. “That’s when we step in. We provide some initial funding, and we also have business mentors who will advise the professors throughout the process during the year.”

Throughout 2010, the computer scientists plan to expand the use of SleepServer across about 1,000 personal computers in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. The next step will be to install SleepServer across the entire campus.

“We are a very heterogeneous department,” said Agarwal. “If SleepServer can support the diverse computing needs of the computer science department, it should be able to support anyone.”

The product currently has a patent pending with commercial licensing rights available.

Shannon Strybel is a freelance writer for the San Diego Business Journal.

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