SPEC forms server efficiency committee

SPEC, a nonprofit that measures server performances, now has a committee to develop standards for server energy efficiency.

A nonprofit organization that measures server performance benchmarks has formed a committee to develop server energy efficiency standards.

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The Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC) committee is part of a move by industry leaders to determine performance and energy standards that are comprehensive and unbiased, with the federal Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Energy Star program hopefully supporting the effort.

The new SPEC committee -- which includes officials from Advanced Micro Devices Inc., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp., IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. -- hopes to release its first energy and performance benchmark in early 2007.

"We expect to have this be the first in a series," said Larry Gray, chairman of the committee and a server performer analyst at Intel. "The rate of technology change is very rapid, so no one benchmark is expected to last longer than, say, three years."

The idea of standards has gained traction in recent months amid skyrocketing energy costs. Some large data centers can consume as much energy as a small town in powering and cooling their machines, and executives paying the bills have taken notice.

Industry-accepted standards could give vendors a reason to manufacture machines within guidelines so they could use the results as a selling point to customers. It could also lead to healthy competition between vendors seeking better scores on the benchmark tests.

"Whenever there's a racetrack, someone's always driving to win," Gray said.

"In our case, we like to see stuff like this because we think some of our products have a real lead in this space," added David Douglas, Sun vice president of eco-responsibility. "We can say it all we want, but it's good to have some third-party validation on that."

Customers could use the standards as another factor in deciding which vendor to choose, knowing that they could rely on unbiased results that weren't just slanted marketing pitches by vendors.

In addition to representatives from the usual list of vendors, Bruce Nordman of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Energy Analysis Department is a supporting member of the committee and liaison to the EPA's Energy Star program.

Meanwhile, a similar group of industry leaders -- many from the same companies as the SPEC committee -- plan to release a draft next month spelling out standards for server efficiency.

The standards will involve plugging a power meter into a server to measure the energy output of the machine while it computes existing performance benchmarks.

That group, which plans to meet for a third time next month, could use performance benchmarks like SPEC and the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC), which focuses on database transactions that are a big part of e-commerce, as a foundation on which to build an energy performance standard.

"We would like the industry to compete on energy performance just as it competes on performance in general," said Andrew Fanara, leader of the EPA Energy Star product development team. "Most folks involved in this process would love to take advantage of some industry-accepted standard, and if it happens to be a SPEC standard, that would be great."

The Energy Star program measures the energy efficiency of items from ceiling fans to dehumidifiers to desktop computers. For now, it is not imposing any standard on servers, opting instead to see if the industry can agree on one by itself.

The initial benchmark that the SPEC committee releases early next year is expected to address small and mid-sized computer server platforms. Though not yet defined, the standard will use current SPEC performance benchmarks as the basis for generating workloads that servers typically shoulder.

Meanwhile, TPC administrator Michael Majdalany said it has no plans of forming a committee similar to what SPEC has done, but if vendors or customers start asking for it, "then the TPC will probably look at benchmarks in that area."

As the SPEC committee develops its standard, it wants to hear from IT managers, vendors and experts in power measurement for input on how to measure power to the server. More information on the SPEC Power-Performance committee is available at www.spec.org/specpower or by e-mailing specpower@spec.org.

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