Uptime Institute schools EPA on data center efficiency

The EPA will file a report to Congress in June regarding the energy consumption of data centers and how to make them more efficient. Integrated within the report will be recommendations from The Uptime Institute on data center best practices.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- When the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) files a report to Congress in June regarding data center energy consumption, it will adopt some recommendations from The Uptime Institute on data center best practices.

A law passed late last year gives the EPA 180 days to file a report on how much energy data centers are using and ways to keep that number in check. Andrew Fanara, leader of the EPA Energy Star product development team, said at The Uptime Institute Inc.'s symposium last week that as he gathers information to go into the data center energy report, he will harness knowledge from Uptime and its end-user members.

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Uptime executive director Ken Brill, meanwhile, said he expects Uptime to play an active role in the EPA report by helping to draft a simple statement that will prompt executives to ask questions that IT and facilities managers can answer.

Data center efficiency metrics

Another of Uptime's goals is to agree on a common way to measure the energy efficiency of an entire data center. Brill has devised variables for measuring data center efficiency, as has The Green Grid, a consortium of major IT vendors that formed last year with the goal of reducing waste in data centers. Industry leaders have already drafted a energy efficiency metric for servers.

"We're working with Uptime on what is the proper metric to measure an entire data center," Fanara said. "Then any data center can be measured in terms of its efficiency. Then people can have a starting point. We want people to compete on efficiency."

During two afternoon sessions, a select group that included Uptime leaders, user advisors and vendor representatives discussed what the metric should look like and what it should be called. Likely, it will be named the "data center efficiency metric" or something similar and will focus heavily on two variables: the amount of power going into a data center facility and how much of that power gets to the IT equipment. The gap between the two numbers can be explained by a number of things, including cooling and lighting equipment, and inefficient power supplies.

Ultimately, that measurement will help data center managers put a hard number on how much they can save by adopting energy-efficient designs in their facilities.

For example, data center managers could calculate how much more efficient their facility could be if they powered down servers that weren't being used anymore and then come up with the resulting savings.

Energy Star for servers

The EPA is also considering starting an Energy Star program for servers. Energy Star is a federal program that provides energy efficiency ratings for appliances, such as washing machines, ceiling fans and desktop computers. Including servers in the program should lead to server manufacturers competing with one another on energy efficiency, Fanara said.

Fanara is also working with Jonathan Koomey of the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, which has reported on data center topics such as direct current (DC) power and airside economizing. Koomey recently released a report showing that 1.2 percent of U.S. energy is taken up by data centers. Some industry leaders put that figure closer to 2 percent when taking into account storage and networking equipment.

Uptime's Brill estimated that in five years, data centers could represent as much as 3 to 4 percent of U.S. power consumption. Much of Koomey's study will be part of the report that the EPA sends to Congress in three months.

According to participants at the Uptime conference last week, the key to making the EPA report work is keeping it simple and direct. If it starts to describe variables and metrics in terms that are too technical, the information could be harder to grasp.

"With the EPA study, you need to be very short, very smart, very attention-getting," said Robert Barden, a consultant at consultancy firm Milemark LLC, at the Uptime symposium. "You have to differentiate between what's going to be in the EPA study and what we're going to use as a tool to measure this efficiency."

Even beyond the report, there is talk about what the data center efficiency metric should look like. Should the metric be represented as a percentage from 0 to 100 percent (i.e., my data center is 63 percent efficient), or should it be a variable that improves as it approaches 1? The original variable was developed using the latter approach and will likely stay that way, but the group remained split on the issue.

The EPA's Fanara added that it was important for him to interact with IT professionals so that whatever program or metric the EPA decides to back will also be supported by leaders in the industry.

"We really have to develop this with people who know the market," he said. "We're looking for endorsement from organizations that are the experts."

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

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