EPA releases draft Energy Star server specification

The EPA has identified five functional areas of energy efficiency that servers must meet to qualify for the Energy Star label.

On Thursday, Feb. 14, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a draft of its Energy Star specification that applies to servers ranging from two-socket 1U commodity boxes to large SMP machines with more than 1,000 processor cores.

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With the announcement, servers join a long list of items for which the Energy Star program already measures efficiency, such as ceiling fans, dehumidifiers and desktop PCs. Andrew Fanara, who heads the Energy Star product development team, said the group is seeking input from server manufacturers and users before finalizing the specification and will accept comments on the 10-page draft through March 14.

The draft lays out five criteria for a server to garner the Energy Star label.
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Over the past year and a half, industry leaders have developed an energy-efficiency specification for servers, particularly as power consumption has become a central issue in the data center. With an objective standard, manufacturers can promote energy-efficient servers, and users can incorporate energy-efficiency ratings into the decision-making process on which hardware to purchase.

Energy Star for servers' scope
In August 2006, an informal industry group that included representatives from all the major server vendors developed an initial server efficiency protocol , but the standard applied only to 1U and 2U servers. In the recently released draft, the EPA has diffentiated between servers by splitting market into three product categories: small (up to four sockets and 16 processor cores), medium (up to 16 sockets and 64 cores), and large (up to 128 sockets and 1,024 cores).

"What is the EPA trying to accomplish? Are they trying to address all servers, or are they trying to address a certain segment?" Fanara said. "And I would say yes to both. Surely we would have the goal to have it apply to all products possible, but only as far as it would create realistic criteria for each of the categories."

The draft lays out five criteria for a server to garner the Energy Star label:

  • Power supply efficiency minimums. There will be minimum efficiency requirements for Single- and multivoltage power supplies at four load points: 10%, 20%, 50% and 100%. Expect the EPA to work with groups like 80 Plus and the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, which have already developed power supply efficiency standards.
  • Idle power consumption usage. Many servers spend a lot of time not doing anything, especially volume servers running at low utilization rates. "If we presume that idle exists for some fair amount of time, it would make sense that we would want to recognize servers that idle at a lower rate," Fanara said. He added that the EPA realizes it would be best if a user's server utilization weren't so low but that "people manage workloads [in] the way that makes sense to them. If that results in a lot of idle time, we're not in a position to tell people how to run their servers."
  • Standard information reporting requirements. To obtain the Energy Star label, server manufacturers would be required to post a data sheet on their Web site that outlines general information, such as a model number, form factor and number of sockets, as well as power-related data, such as power management capabilities, virtualization features, and power consumption information.
  • Power and temperature measurements. To qualify for the Energy Star label, a server must be able to provide real-time information on power consumption, inlet air temperature and processor utilization rate.
  • Power management and virtualization. Energy Star servers will have to come equipped with hardware power management and virtualization capabilities.

The EPA may also develop a specification that could replace the one described above. This second specification would likely use industry-accepted performance benchmarks that account for computing capability and energy use. Examples include the SPECpower benchmark from Standard Performance Evaluation Corp.,, but this standard applies only to Java workloads. The EPA wants to devise a standard more all-encompassing standard that addresses all kinds of workloads.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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