EPA eyes Energy Star label for servers

The EPA may include servers in its Energy Star program, which as of now measures the energy efficiency of items like washing machines and desktop PCs. The federal agency will also undertake a six-month study on data center energy consumption.

Consumers know to look for the trademark label Energy Star when buying a refrigerator or washing machine. Now, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering slapping the label on deserving servers as well.

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The EPA announced in a letter at the end of the year that it will study the viability of adding servers into the Energy Star program, which already measures the energy efficiency of items like ceiling fans, dehumidifiers and desktop PCs. It will also consider forming a benchmark for the facilities that hold data centers.

"In the coming months, EPA will conduct an analysis to determine whether such a specification for servers is viable, given current market dynamics, the availability and performance of energy-efficient designs and the potential energy savings," read the letter from Andrew Fanara, the EPA Energy Star program manager.

The EPA, in accordance with a congressional bill signed into law the last week of December, must also undergo a six-month study on the energy consumption of data centers. The data center efficiency bill originated in the House of Representatives and was passed there this summer, then went to the Senate and on to President George W. Bush, who signed it into law.

Manufacturers step up

Last year, during various interviews and conferences, the EPA said it preferred to wait and see if server manufacturers could devise a protocol on their own. The manufacturers did that, releasing the final draft of the energy-efficiency standard in the fall.

The metric, which right now is just for 1U and 2U rack servers, uses a power meter to measure frequency, voltage, power factor and total harmonic distortion compared to CPU utilization. What comes out the other side is a curve with power output on the y-axis and percentage of workload on the x-axis. Measurements for workload are in 10% increments from 0% to 100%, allowing data center managers to examine the curve depending on how busy they expect their servers to be.

Jonathan Koomey, a professor at Stanford University and staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who helped create the standard, said their effort was really to just "kickstart the process," and that the EPA could help that along.

"Any way to bring attention to efficiency in servers is a good thing," he said. "Hopefully there will be a move toward a consensus."

Koomey added that the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC) will likely be in the mix as well. SPEC, a nonprofit that measures server performance benchmarks, has formed a committee to develop a standard of its own, which it hopes to release by the end of March.

Data center energy consumption a concern

The EPA now wants to determine if a measurement overseen by the federal government would be a good way for end users to find out which servers waste the least energy. The energy draw of servers -- and the amount of air-conditioning it takes to cool them -- is a major concern for data center managers. In a poll of 125 users at the Gartner data center conference in November, 68% said either power or cooling is the greatest facility problem with their primary data center.

Vendors have already talked about developing an energy-efficiency metric for blade servers, as well as rack servers larger than 4U. There is also interest in the industry to look at the power consumption of storage equipment, but that will likely be tackled further down the road. The EPA seems to realize that manufacturers have to be involved if an Energy Star label for servers is going to succeed.

"This effort will include working with industry stakeholders to encourage standardized testing and reporting procedures for server energy use," Fanara's letter said.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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