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IT giants back Green Grid initiative

AMD, IBM, HP and Sun sponsor initiative for users to work out power management and cooling issues.

IT heavyweights, Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD), IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and Sun Microsystems Inc., are sponsoring a new initiative called The Green Grid, which they hope will become a group focused on data center power management and cooling.

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The skyrocketing cost of energy in the last two years has left data center operators -- and their bosses paying the bills -- clamoring for ways to conserve. The nonprofit Green Grid aims to let customers more easily talk among themselves about what they're facing.

Though the nonprofit group is still in its infancy, members can soon expect to see tools, such as online discussion boards, live chats and blogs. Members may eventually be able to view live streaming conference seminars through the site, and there will likely be an annual gathering of members.

The Web site currently has a conglomeration of news articles, research studies and white papers posted -- mainly by its founding members -- but its main goal now is inviting groups to join the project.

"The purpose of the organization is to facilitate open and honest communication between users around the problems with power management," said Bruce Shaw, AMD director of worldwide commercial marketing.

According to Shaw, who heads up the project, it's not unheard of for large data centers to consume as much power as a small town. That results in severe cooling problems and a lot of spending.

The cost of a data center includes the price of hardware and how much you have to pay to run it. When half of that equation increases sharply because of rising energy and utility costs, the whole thing can get out of whack.

"If you're only paying five grand for a server, but the cost of operating it doubles or triples over 18 months, that can add a substantial amount of money into the total cost of ownership," said Charles King, principal analyst for Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT.

Power and cooling No. 1 issue

That was what Sunnyvale, Calif.-based AMD found last summer when it surveyed its customers on issues facing data centers. Normally the company sends out 4,000 to 5,000 surveys and gets 200 to 300 back. For this survey, 1,200 customers replied.

That was eye opening in itself, but of those who replied, 83% said power and cooling was the No. 1 issue, and 56 percent said management was not investigating power consumption and cooling as a way to lower costs.

A few weeks after getting the survey results, AMD held one of its normal advisory council meetings with customers. They discussed the survey, and Shaw discovered that AMD's customers were very much concerned with the issue.

What came of the meeting was a two-hour session where customers had a give-and-take with each other about power management and cooling problems, and what they were doing to solve them.

And thus, the basic idea behind The Green Grid was formed.

"What was painfully missing to us was talking to the customer," Shaw said.

Aside from customers being able to vent with one another, the project is also a way for vendors to connect with customers and hopefully improve their products. In the process, founding members can also say they're promoting eco-friendly computing, and analysts say that can't hurt.

"There is obviously this sort of environmentally friendly, good-for-the-planet message that you can wrap around it as well," said Gordon Haff, principal IT advisor at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc.

Going green is good for business

Haff compared The Green Grid to Sun teaming up last year with the band U2 and its front man, Bono. Sun developed a Java application that allowed concert goers to text message a number that replied with a Web address to learn more about the ONE Campaign, which aims to end poverty in Africa. The names of those who text messaged were then posted on a large screen at the concert.

The collaboration allowed Sun to promote its product and support a cause. Haff said The Green Grid is similar: Vendors can say they support environmentally friendly power management and then offer customers the tools to get there.

"I don't suggest that nobody at these companies actually cares about these issues, but it is at some level a byproduct of doing things that are ultimately good for their business," Haff said.

In November, Sun launched an Eco-Responsibility Initiative, following it up with forums in January and March with industry leaders and agencies, such as the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. It also rolled out products like the UltraSparc T1 processor, which it touted as using as much energy as a household light bulb.

"We're doing this because it's good for our business," said Edward Hunter, director of the Sun initiative. "Customers are telling us that it's getting more and more expensive to run these data centers. Energy is one of those things that is basically an expense that comes out of your bottom line."

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