Many data center managers are indifferent to the EPA's new Energy Star program for servers, saying they're unsure of the impact -- if any -- the server specification will have on their purchasing decisions.
Pete Simpson, the data center operations director at Indianapolis-based insurance claims company Real Med Corp., said the Energy Star rating is "irrelevant" to him.
"The major manufacturers will all produce compliant equipment as they rev their products, so over time these will become standard features of all but the el-cheapo white-box server manufacturers," Simpson said. Besides, being "green" isn't a company priority right now; more important factors are reliability, processing power, and memory access times, among other things.
"We currently have plenty of power and cooling capacity, so I'm not up against a wall for more power efficiency and less heat load," he said.Paying a premium for energy efficiency?
The Energy Star program covers dozens of household appliances, including washing machines, ceiling fans, and laptop computers. This month, the EPA rolled out the first version of its Energy Star spec for servers, capping more than two years of work developing a federal metric for server energy efficiency.
All the major server manufacturers plan to contribute to the program, although the Energy Star's current list (as of June 3) includes only four Intel-based HP ProLiant servers. For now, vendors said they don't expect to charge a premium for Energy Star-compliant servers, but that could change.
"The focus right now is on the energy-efficient design of our systems," said Elisabeth Stahl, an IBM chief technical strategist. "At this point in time, for Power Systems as an example, a premium is not anticipated." Stahl added that "if system components were changed to meet requirements, that could affect the total system configuration."
HP and Sun Microsystems echoed Stahl's sentiments. Subodh Bapat, a distinguished engineer at Sun, said the company's focus is now on the "evaluation process" but that it expected to be competitive on price. HP, meanwhile, said that it will not charge a premium for Energy Star servers.Virtualization challenges Energy Star's value
The relevance of the Energy Star qualification is especially questionable in larger data centers doing server virtualization. At least for the first version of the Energy Star spec, the only servers that can qualify must have four or fewer processor sockets. The EPA is developing a second version of the spec, but it's not due out until next year.
Some data center managers will take a close look at Energy Star qualified servers, but only if they meet their needs. Timothy Happychuk, the IT director at the Canadian media company Quebecor, said that "smaller servers with [fewer] CPU cores and more aggressive ramp down technologies will naturally have an easier time gaining a coveted EPA sticker but would be a poor choice for high-density virtualization platforms as the technology currently stands."
Nor would buying Energy Star servers necessarily be better for the environment, Happychuk said. "If I buy 10 low-power, EPA-approved servers as opposed to one high-end platform for hosting high-density virtual systems that may just miss the criteria, does the combined material, production, processing and ongoing operational costs for the former solution actually outweigh the true environmental cost of the latter?" he added.
Lance Kekel, a data center manager at a jewelry company in the Midwest, added that many of his counterparts in IT might not even know about the Energy Star spec yet. And once they do, it could take a while before it has any effect on purchasing decisions.
"While I've mentioned this to my senior management team I do not know if there have been any discussions with those that purchase the servers," he said. "While I'm responsible for the physical room and the repair and maintenance of servers once on the floor, I don't play much of a role in the initial purchase phases."
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