EPA releases Energy Star server specification

After two years of work, the Environmental Protection Agency has released its Energy Star spec for servers.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency this week released a final Energy Star computer server specification, which covers most machines with one to four sockets.

It has been more than two years since the EPA began to consider an Energy Star label for servers. Prompted by the IT industry's interest in data center power consumption, the Energy Star spec went through multiple drafts, and is still far from complete. As of now, it covers standalone servers with one to four processor sockets. Expected in October 2010, a second tier to the specification will cover servers with more than four processor sockets, blade servers, and fault-tolerant machines, among other things.

Energy Star is an EPA labeling program meant to help consumers pick out energy-efficient products. The program currently includes scores of items, including ceiling fans, dishwashers and desktop computers. If a manufacturer qualifies its product, it can slap an Energy Star label on it, and the product information can also be displayed on the manufacturer's and the Energy Star Web site.

"I really think it's an important first step," said Andrew Fanara of the Energy Star's product development team. Fanara helped spearhead the process of getting a spec for servers. "I think you will start to see businesses and government agencies change their procurement policies to buy Energy Star unless you have a really good reason not to."

Here are the basics of the new benchmark:

  • The spec includes a matrix for power supply efficiency requirements. If the server has a multi-output power supply, for example, the supply should be at 82% efficiency when the server is at full load.
  • The spec also sets power consumption limits for when the server is idle. For a single-socket server, the limit is 65 watts; for four-socket servers, the limit is 300 W. Allowances are made for additional installed components (such as 20 W for another power supply).
  • Manufacturers must provide a "power and performance data sheet" with each server, or each server class, detailing power consumption at various load configurations.

Different end users will use the Energy Star spec in different ways, reported Fanara. For many large organizations already doing their own rigorous testing, the Energy Star server rating could be "a little simplistic for them" but could still augment their understanding of "the energy profile of these products."

"This will probably get more use in smaller organizations, because they have less resources to go out and get all this information on their own," he said.

Major server manufacturers are already submitting their products for Energy Star approval. Hewlett-Packard Co. said this week that two of its servers -- the DL360 and DL380 G6 -- now meet Energy Star requirements, and it expects that seven more servers will be added to the list soon. IBM and Sun Microsystems have touted similar offerings.

"This is a great first step, but it's not a complete spec," said Subodh Bapat, a distinguished engineer at Sun. "It's a good start toward finding out which servers are better than others on an energy basis."

What else is coming? The Tier 2 spec, in addition to covering more classes of server, will also look to define a metric that compares server performance with energy consumption. Finding that magic number -- or as Fanara speculates, numbers plural -- could take a while.

"I've had a number of emails regarding the spec saying that they want to be able to identify efficient hardware, but they also want to know how efficiently the server computes," he said.

The EPA is working an Energy Star spec for data center facilities and is collecting data from volunteering data centers now. And Fanara said his group hopes to have a framework document for an Energy Star for data storage equipment out in the next two weeks.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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