Wyatt Kash | Power play

Wyatt Kash

A new report due to Congress this month promises to shine a necessary spotlight on the rising amount of energy being consumed by government and industry to operate data centers. The unofficial draft, written by the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star team and making the rounds for public comment in recent weeks, does a good job of spelling out the magnitude of the problem.

The amount of electricity used to operate and cool the nation's servers and data centers totaled nearly 60 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, accounting for 1.5 percent of the nation's total electricity consumption. That may not seem like much, but it's more than double the amount used in 2000 ' and on industrial par with the amount of energy used to manufacture the nation's plastic and rubber products. And with electricity costs estimated at $4.1 billion in 2006, and rising rapidly, data centers are starting to generate industrial-sized bills, too.

Although government facilities are believed to account for about 10 percent of the consumption, Congress has an outsized opportunity to help government agencies and industry develop more energy-efficient data centers.

The place to begin is to support development of a credible energy performance rating system for data centers. Measuring energy efficiency relative to computing performance is a complex task; it varies, depending on processing use, data storage, network communications, and server availability, reliability and responsiveness. But until such a measure exists, the task of improving efficiency will remain ad hoc and the benefits unclear.

A second step: Explore new, more holistic financial incentives that take into account the fact that many data centers are in facilities not owned by the operator of the equipment, which limits efforts to improve efficiency.

Finally, Congress can help by giving new funding and guidance to the EPA's Energy Star program to advance these efforts.

The Energy Star program is best known for its energy efficiency ratings on major appliances and home heating systems, but its real success has been in working with industry to establish common measurement standards and educating buyers to consider energy consumption as part of the total cost. A comparable program for data centers would be a good start in dealing with an energy issue that is escalating faster than most people realize.

Wyatt Kash, Editor in chief

E-mail: wkash@1105govinfo.com

About the Author

Wyatt Kash served as chief editor of GCN (October 2004 to August 2010) and also of Defense Systems (January 2009 to August 2010). He currently serves as Content Director and Editor at Large of 1105 Media.

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