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Vendors near agreement for server efficiency standards

An industry-wide server energy efficiency standard is expected to hit the public for the first time next month.

Industry leaders plan to release a draft next month spelling a server efficiency standard that could win support from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Server efficiency standard:

Vendors tussle over measuring server efficiency

EPA site on enterprise server and data center efficiency initiatives

Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC)


Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC)


The seerver efficiency standard will involve plugging a power meter into a server to measure the energy output of the machine while it computes existing performance benchmarks, according to Jonathan Koomey, a scientist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and power expert at Stanford University in California.

For example, a nonprofit called the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp (SPEC) has a set of benchmarks for servers. Members of SPEC include IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), Sun Microsystems Inc. and dozens of others.

One of the many SPEC benchmarks measures performance while compiling and running a chess program called 186.crafty. By comparing performance with how much energy the server uses to operate the program, the industry can create efficiency figures data center pros can sink their teeth into.

Koomey said the other performance benchmark the industry could use is the Transaction Processing Performance Council, which focuses on database benchmarks that are a big part of e-commerce.

"If we can stick a power meter on a computer while it's running whatever standard it is, then you have a power measurement while it's running a benchmark," Koomey said. "We are attaching energy metrics to existing benchmarks."

The standards could be a step toward addressing the power hogs that data centers have become. The problem has come to the forefront in the last two years as energy costs have shot through the roof. With some large data centers consuming as much energy as a small town, company executives paying the utility bills are realizing how much it all costs.

Industry-accepted standards could lead toward vendors manufacturing machines within the guidelines, which they could then use as a selling point for customers.

Customers, meanwhile, could use the standards as an important factor when deciding which vendor to choose, because they would know the standards were industry-wide and not just a biased marketing push.

"Customers want servers ranked by energy and performance, Web pages served by kilowatt per hour," Koomey said. "The point is, right now they can't do that. They cannot specify in a consistent way. Each manufacturer has its own specifications."

Koomey said they are in the process of creating a draft to circulate among a group of "big players," including HP, Sun, IBM and others. Next month, he said they want to release it to the broader technology community for comments, which could lead to a review committee tweaking the standards.

All of it is being done with the support of the EPA's Energy Star program, which measures the energy efficiency of items from ceiling fans to dehumidifiers to desktop PCs.

The EPA has shown up to conferences and workshops on data center efficiency in recent months, notably two of them hosted by Sun and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. The federal agency has no current plans to include servers in Energy Star, preferring for the moment to see if the industry can agree on a standard by itself.

"I think that right now there are no plans on the books right now to do an Energy Star spec on the types of servers in a data center," said Andrew Fanara, leader of the Energy Star product development team. "We're going to evaluate things, and if a consensus arises that the market would be better served with Energy Star, then we'll step in."

He added that he expects different standards for different sizes and types of servers, just as Energy Star has a different standard for a desktop computer as it does for a laptop.

"We're not doing this in a vacuum out of the purview of the EPA," said Edward Hunter, director of the Sun Eco-Responsibility Initiative. "But it is the right thing to let the industry try to figure this out and not have the EPA step in and start mandating things."

Hunter added that the standards could include factors other than performance and energy, such as the physical space the machine takes up, but that a review committee would be instrumental in determining that.

Fanara said that if the standards for server efficiency are successful, the same process could happen to other data center puzzle pieces, such as storage and routers.

"I think it's a ripe opportunity," Fanara said. "Because it's a big industry with a lot moving fast, it's a field where efficiency is going to come up rather quickly, and that's an exciting thing to see."

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

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