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Data center energy efficiency group releases draft standard on servers

A group supported by the federal EPA has released a draft standard for measuring the energy efficiency of servers. If approved by the industry, the standard could become another factor in the purchasing decisions of users by calculating how much energy a server needs to perform certain tasks.

A working group of industry leaders has released a draft protocol on measuring the energy efficiency of servers in the data center.

The standard is getting support from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and will involve measuring the energy output of a server while it performs existing performance benchmarks.

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The 10-page draft protocol, which became available on Friday, spells out test conditions, what machines the standard would be for and how to measure the results. According to the draft, the "curve of server power vs. performance/load" is the key output from the metrics process, which allows the user to calculate average power use at a given loading level -- as well as peak power use.

Other details of the protocol:

  • It focuses on 1U and 2U rack servers and does not address medium enterprise or blade servers.
  • The environmental conditions under which the tests are performed should be guided by data center standards set up by ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers].
  • The result will be calculated using a power curve that measures energy output at three different load levels: full, 90% and idling.

    The working group that created the draft includes representatives from all major chipmakers and server vendors, as well as members of the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Stanford University and the Uptime Institute.

    For the most part, the EPA has taken a wait-and-see approach and has not committed to rolling the upcoming standard into its Energy Star program, which already measures the energy efficiency of items from ceiling fans to dehumidifiers to desktop PCs. Andrew Fanara, leader of the EPA Energy Star product development team, said the group will be road testing the metric with some customers to see how it works.

    "A metric may be all they (the industry) needs and we (the EPA) might not get involved, but we'll be in a better position to answer that question at the end of the year," he said.

    Fanara also said that if the group can devise a metric that manufacturers and customers are happy with, "we'll be well on our way to deciding if it's going to get an Energy Star specification."

    The working group is now seeking comments on the draft protocol from a broad swath of people in the data center industry. It is particularly looking for input from data center operators, energy measurement experts and users who buy a lot of 1U and 2U servers. More details on the protocol are available on the EPA's site. Comments can be sent to Jonathan Koomey, the lead author of the draft protocol at

    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 large town, company executives paying the utility bills are realizing how much it all costs.

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

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

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