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EPA promises data center efficiency metrics for 2008

The head of the EPA's Energy Star team said at the AFCOM Data Center World conference that select server and data center energy efficiency metrics will be available shortly.

DALLAS -- A head of the Energy Star program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said that as early as next year, data center managers will be able to use government recommendations for purchasing decisions.

For more on energy-efficient standards:
EPA sends final report on data center energy efficiency to Congress

Data center energy efficiency and the EPA report

Andrew Fanara, the head of the EPA Energy Star product development team, has been making the rounds at various conferences following his team's release of a 133-page report on data center energy consumption last month. On Monday morning, he gave the keynote address at AFCOM's Data Center World conference in Dallas. He said that Energy Star -- in conjunction with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and industry groups like the Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), Green Grid and the Uptime Institute Inc. -- will have benchmarks and labels coming out at the end of this year and early next to aid data center managers in determining how energy efficient their facilities are and which vendors offer the most energy-efficient servers.

Outages just a matter of time
Research on data centers indicates that over the next five years, data centers will run out of power. Orange, Calif.-based AFCOM itself predicted that over the next five years power failures and other limits on power availability will halt data center operations at more than 90% of all companies. Stamford, Conn.-based research firm Gartner Inc. said that by 2008, half of all data centers will have insufficient power and cooling capacity to meet demands of high-density equipment.

"You have to remember that electricity is the mother's milk of any data center," Fanara said. "It's the inefficiency of that use in the data center that creates the problem of running out of power."

Here's a rundown of all the data center energy efficiency metrics, labels and benchmarks that should hit the streets by early next year:

  • Energy Star label for servers. Much like the labels it has for refrigerators, ceiling fans and other household devices, the EPA hopes to develop an Energy Star label for computer servers. Fanara said that should be ready by early next year.
  • SPEC energy-efficiency benchmark. This metric would rate performance compared with energy consumed so that users can determine which servers are best for different kinds of workloads. Fanara said it will be ready by the end of this year. According to Green Grid officials at the Next Generation Data Center conference last month, the SPEC power benchmark may even be ready this month.
  • A data center efficiency metric. This standard would measure the energy efficiency of an entire data center rather than just individual servers. It would compare total electricity consumed by the data center to what is actually getting to the IT equipment, represented as a ratio. Fanara said that the EPA will endorse one or more of these metrics by the end of this year.

Metrics: Benefit or burden?
Once the data center metrics become available, will companies actually use them?

"There aren't any metrics yet," John Kane, data center planner for Acxiom Corp., which helps companies manage marketing databases. "Once there are, I think a lot of us -- especially the bigger [data centers] -- will use them. We're a pretty good-size data center, and so we stand to gain back some money if we implement them."

Acxiom has about 300,000 square feet of data center space, half of it at the company's headquarters in Little Rock, Ark. Kane said Acxiom hasn't done a lot related to energy efficiency in its data center, but the company is talking about it. Still, Kane will have to struggle to convey that message up the ladder to top executives.

You have to remember that energy efficiency is the mother's milk of any data center.
Andrew Fanara,
head of the Energy Star product development teamEPA

"I'm a ways down the food chain," he said. "My immediate boss would have to work it up the ladder, so it does take a while."

Whether metrics come directly from the EPA or are simply endorsed by the federal agency, these standards could also help get executives' attention.

"I think the Energy Star specification would be good. Energy Star is in the home: televisions, appliances," said Don Dumich, application director for power quality systems at S&C Electric Co., a UPS provider in Chicago. "Having it for servers would get people's attention."

But looking at Energy Star labels and scrutinizing scores on the SPEC Web site are different from making your whole data center efficient. The first is about buying products and integrating energy-efficient servers into your normal refresh cycle. The other is about fixing the energy hog that is your entire data center, of which servers are but one part.

"We would look at what kind of cooling we're doing," Kane said. "High-efficient cooling would be first, because right now we're not able to use all our floor space because we've used all of the cooling capacity."

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

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