Interview by Alyse Backus
Lance Pellerin graduated this past spring from Missoula College (formerly known as the College of Technology) with his associate degree in computer technology. He left the program with a 4.0 grade-point average and moved to UM’s central campus this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in computer science. In April, Pellerin won the physical sciences category at the UM Undergraduate Research Conference. His work has solicited discussion about the impact of information technology in reducing the University’s overall carbon footprint.
What drew you to studying computer science?
I have always been really fascinated with technology, and when I decided to come back to school I didn’t want to just do nothing or just do my general-education credits. I looked through all the programs that interested me the most. Then I jumped into it with everything I had.
What made you choose sustainability and green computing for your research?
The project was actually brought to me by my adviser Tom Gallagher. The year before he had done the same thing, but he did it with computer labs rather than individual users. He set me off in a direction, and that’s where the idea came from. Then I kind of made it my own and expanded it.
Why is green computing an important concept for UM?
Well, computers are in every single office and every single building. They are such a huge part of the infrastructure that we have here at UM. Everyone always talks about sustainability, but we never think about these computers that are sucking up so much juice. Computers are a huge part of the electricity use that UM generates.
Ideally, what would you see UM do as far as green computing?
Thin-client computers would be used. They are basically stripped down computers that use very little energy and run off a server. Ideally, UM would build its own server farm, and all of the labs and all of the computers could be converted to thin clients. Thin clients would end up saving a huge amount of energy over time. There are some people at IT who are definitely interested in it, but we have the infrastructure for what we have already in place. It would be such a huge expense to build the server farms and buy all the servers and thin clients. I am not sure if it’s economically feasible for the school.
Is it something you could see UM doing in 10 or 15 years?
I hope so. Because we get computer upgrades every three or four years, it’s something that could be done. It would need to start being implemented, and we need to have people that are open to change. It wouldn’t only be the IT group that would need to learn it, but everyone using the thin clients. So that would include the professors, the students using the labs and the office workers.
You recently won the physical science category at the UM Undergraduate Research Conference. Can you explain that project?
What we basically did was take a test group of six users. Two of them were faculty, two of them were staff members, and two were student-used computers like the ones used in Griz Central. We measured their energy output of the workstation they were already using. We measured both the monitor and the desktop tower. Then we implemented two different types of thin-client devices. We bought two HP thin clients, and then I built two thin clients using some old computers that IT had lying around. I removed some of the components that draw a lot of energy and used a USB flash drive to boot up into the operating system. They all ran off a server that was housed over at (Missoula College UM). Then we measured the energy output.
What conclusion did your project come to?
Thin-client computing is by far the most energy-efficient computing there is. Unfortunately, the ones that I built didn’t really show any difference in energy output as compared to the regular stations. We concluded that was because the power supplies in them were going to put out that much power no matter what components were running inside of them.
Did you run into any obstacles during the completion of your project?
The server I had was not ideal for a lot of the users. I also didn’t have a large amount of time to get everything set up and do the proper testing to make sure everything was working the way it would need to in a professional environment. So there were a couple hiccups.
Is this a project that you see yourself expanding upon as you move through your academic career?
I would definitely love to do some more research. Maybe, if we could get a little more funding and get a better server and some more thin clients, we could expand it to the computer labs and do something on a bigger scale. Because it was only six computers that I did, I am not sure how concrete those results are. There needs to be a larger-scale test done in order to really nail down how much energy we could really save the University in time. I would also like to calculate how much money we would save the University on their electricity bill so maybe I could take it to some of the higher-ups.
Were there any UM professors who were instrumental to your project’s success?
Tom Gallagher and Penny Jakes were the two that helped me run the system. Tom was my adviser on the project. He was instrumental in getting the idea going and also helping me to implement the things I needed to. As far as Penny goes, she was the other volunteer and she supported me.
What was it like for you to win?
It was a great feeling! I really was nervous about it. I get anxious before I do things, so it was a big relief. When I finished, I felt like I did a good job and it really could be something that could impact the University for a long time. I felt good about it, but it was a surprise to win.
You just earned your associate degree, and you have pursued your bachelor’s degree in computer science this fall. What are you looking forward to with this new academic course?
I am really excited about getting into the programming aspect. The (Missoula College) program is much more focused on the administration, hardware and repair. Using the other side of your brain to create this program that does what you want it to is something I am really looking forward to.
What are your long-term goals regarding both your academic and career plans?
Right now, I really like helping people. I really enjoy helping people fix these problems that are sometimes so foreign to them that they don’t really grasp what’s going on. It’s nice to help walk them through and maybe teach them something they didn’t know before. If I don’t go into programming, I would like to do something like that to help people with technology and maybe bring technology to countries that don’t have it right now. I am interested in going to Third World countries and setting up computer infrastructures so they have access to the same resources. The Internet is such an amazing tool. It gives kids who may never have a chance to get out of their country the opportunity to do all these great things and get all the education that the rest of the world has access to.
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