Wyatt Kash | Data center metrics

Editor's desk'commentary

GCN Editor in Chief Wyatt Kash

GCN

For all that technology makes possible in measuring almost any kind of work, there's a certain irony in the difficulty data center operators have had developing a common measure for their centers' efficiency.

That's no small concern. We're quickly approaching the point where energy costs tied to running a data center in the United States will eclipse the cost of the computers and software that go into one. And with data centers emerging as the new factories of the Information Age, the measure of computational output against energy input is becoming as important a financial metric as it is a performance indicator.

Establishing a miles-per-gallon equivalent for data center computing performance, however, has proven stubbornly elusive, as the folks at the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program can attest.

Energy Star is mostly associated with consumer appliance ratings, but its Portfolio Manager benchmarking tool is used to assess and track energy use in more than 70,000 commercial buildings. About a year ago, a consortium in the data center industry began working with Energy Star to develop a comparable benchmark for stand-alone data centers and data centers within offices.

That led to the pursuit of and eventual agreement on a single, albeit ill-fated, measure of data center energy efficiency ' kBtu/useful work. Not surprisingly, debate over what constituted useful work ended in a stalemate, forcing the need for a surrogate rating.

What has emerged now is a bid to gauge the energy a data center uses for computing, including cooling, compared to the power used by the total facility and rank the quotient against similar data centers. The problem: That information hasn't been broadly collected. So Energy Star is appealing to data centers nationwide to voluntarily track and submit that information during the next year.

It's not a bad idea, given the alternatives, and data center operators stand to benefit by participating. Details can be found at energystar.gov/datacenters.

However, knowing how your data center ranks in energy utilization still fails to give operators and industry precise tools to make smarter engineering decisions.

Given the escalating demands for computing power ' and energy ' being placed on data centers, it's vital that the industry and government not give up on finding a common set of metrics for data center performance.

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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