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Many companies have desktops that are on 24/7, but are not likely to be used between, say, 6:00 at night and 7:00 in the morning. How can we schedule them to sleep, wake up before the user is likely to arrive at work, and still install those midnight updates?

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Assuming you have Windows desktops, you can use GPO to set an automatic shut down after a certain time of inactivity - you don't want to automatically shut down someones computer while they are working late.

Ensure corporate software has some enforced auto-save setting so people who have had to run out without shutting down and forgetting to save don't lose work.

Make sure you know which users use non-standard software that can't have such a setting enabled, and either exclude their desktops from the rule, or clearly warn them to save before leaving work.

That takes care of shutting down and saving power.

You can then use Wake On LAN within something like SCCM to wake up computers and install updates at a scheduled time.

I'm not sure how this works with things like hibernation or standby.

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+1 Power management via GP is dead simple. WOL is great too, when it works -- some networks may require WOL proxies. Many BIOSes now support "Wake At" feature which can be configure to boot the computer at a specified date/time. –  jscott Oct 28 '11 at 13:41
    
Helpful, but I would rather sleep the machine so all the applications are still running in the morning; I would not accept having to restart all my applications in the morning. –  joeforker Oct 28 '11 at 14:43
    
My goal is that users will not realize their desktop ever sleeps. I couldn't find "sleep at a certain time" but "sleep after 2 hours of inactivity" will be close enough. The Windows task manager allows you to "wake machine to perform this task" for a task that I'll run an hour before work starts to hopefully allow for updates. –  joeforker Oct 28 '11 at 14:58
    
Many updates will require a reboot, so you can only get what you want with discarding the updates or relying on users to reboot in order to activate the updates. You can set a sleep or hibernate policy through GPO, but I don't know the effects of WOL on these. You should test. Or go to senior management with the potential power savings and value of proper updating, and get them to endorse a shut down. –  dunxd Oct 31 '11 at 10:11

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