SPECIAL REPORT—Green IT

Energy Star zeros in on green servers

The Environmental Protection Agency and server manufacturers are moving closer to an Energy Star specification for enterprise servers that will help government agencies identify systems that deliver performance while reducing energy consumption.

Editor's Note

This story is part of an 1105 Government Information Group special report on green IT. GCN's affiliate publications, Federal Computer Week and Washington Technology, will explore the implications of the 2005 Energy Policy Act and examine the business case for green IT, respectively. You can find the complete 1105 GIG report here.

The Energy Star Version 1.0 Computer Server specification is expected to become effective May 1. Request for comments on Draft 4 of the specification ended March 20.

In preparing the specification, EPA asked industry to focus on several critical issues, such as idle-power requirements for servers with more than two sockets, the appropriate means to measure blade server efficiency, and a standardized data-reporting approach that can help data center managers better understand their IT equipment's power characteristics.

The Energy Star specification for servers can be a useful guidepost for organizations of all sizes, said Andrew Fanara, EPA’s Energy Star product development team lead.

“It doesn’t answer every question about energy efficiency," he said. "However, it can open a conversation about the energy profile of products.”

More information on servers' power use and capability will be posted with product specifications on vendors’ Web sites when the specification is finally approved. EPA plans to provide a template of the Power and Performance Data Sheet for vendors on the agency’s Web site.

IT equipment buyers will be able to compare energy use, thermal characteristics and server performance, EPA officials said.

“Overall, we think that there has been good progress on the server requirements, and we think EPA has done some good work in getting that specification focused on the issues,” said Jay Dietrich, program manager at IBM’s corporate environmental affairs group.

As EPA and vendors work to reduce power consumption for servers on one front, there is increasing use of technology such as virtualization that drives better efficiency by consolidating servers. But virtualization has different service and reliability components built into it that increase power use, Dietrich said.

IBM is working with EPA to strike a balance between the need to reduce power and use of technology such as virtualization that might use more.

“There aren’t real strong metrics or benchmarks for virtualization that are available to set standards for those types of operations,” Dietrich said.

EPA is supposed to address this issue in the next version of the specification, he added.

Utilization over power use

Dell officials would like to see the upcoming specification account for utilization rather than just focus on energy use, said Albert Esser, vice president of data center infrastructure at Dell.

If idle-power and low-utilization power consumption requirements are aggressively pursued, the only systems that could adhere to Energy Star server requirements would be one-socket type servers that are not meant to be highly virtualized and utilized, Esser said.

Servers are not like desktop or laptop computers because they are not meant to be idle. Instead, they are designed to be highly utilized and available. “A heavily utilized server is much more energy effective than a small server running at very low utilization rates,” Esser said.

To be more effective, the server specification should focus on the overall productivity and ecosystem of the data center, he said. The Green Grid, a consortium of industry and government agencies working toward energy efficiency, has proposed a metric that could help organizations compare their data center’s infrastructure to its existing IT load. Dell has contributed to this measurement, which is called the Data Center Infrastructure Efficiency benchmark.

“We would like to see the EPA follow the Green Grid’s lead on specifying IT productivity and IT utilization,” Esser said.

EPA seems to be moving in that direction. In a recent letter to industry, Fanara wrote that EPA recognizes that design trends are leading to increased server utilization, which reduces the idle time of high-performance servers, especially those with more than two sockets. As a result, EPA removed idle-power requirements for servers with more than two sockets in Draft 4 of the specification. Server vendors will be required to turn on processor level power management features when systems are shipped to lower the energy consumption if they go into idle mode.

Esser would also like to see EPA give manufacturers more time to implement some of the requirements.

“EPA is asking for a fairly rapid deployment in a very short time frame," he said. "I don’t think this is in the best interest of everybody." A quick turnaround could make Energy Star-compliant systems more expensive because vendors will need rapid development and design efforts to make this happen, he said.

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