EPA Energy Star program to tackle server market

Perceiving a lack of solid power-to-performance metrics for increasingly electricity-hungry data centers, the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star efficiency program has turned its efforts to the server market.

Over the next few months, Energy Star managers plans to meet with server builders and component suppliers to develop metrics that gauge performance-per-power consumption, according to Andrew Fanara, team leader for Energy Star.

'We're in a good position to bring stakeholders in different product areas together,' Fanara said, noting the success the organization has had in promoting energy-efficient desktop computers, washing machines, light bulbs and other consumer and industrial electronics.

Fanara, along with Energy Star conference chair Jon Koomey, introduced the initiative during an energy conservation webcast conference held by Sun Microsystems Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. Sun recently introduced its own line of energy-efficient servers, the Sun Fire T1000 and Sun Fire T2000.

Traditionally, data center managers haven't paid a great deal of attention to power consumption of their computers, Koomey told GCN. 'People at the facility level don't even see the electricity bill. It gets sent off to another part of the [organization]. If these guys save in the data center, they don't get to keep that savings for their projects.'

This practice is 'true of many electricity uses in commercial industry, but its particularly egregious [with data centers] because the bills are so big,' Koomey said.

Thanks to commodity processing, more commodity servers can be purchased and packed into a data center. The servers' higher-powered processors drive up electricity usage though. Moreover, the heat these faster processors generate must be removed via powerful air conditioning systems, which drive power consumption even higher.

EPA is hoping that organizations, smarting from high electricity bills, will start weighing the cost of electricity consumption along with the other usual factors when purchasing new equipment.

Debuting in 1992, Energy Star was devised by the EPA as a voluntary labeling program for appliance and office equipment vendors to tout the energy efficiency of their products. Products meeting stringent energy-usage specifications can display the Energy Star logo.

The Energy Star managers hope that data center managers can use these server metrics to compare the overall performances of servers. Presumably, the metrics would also encourage vendors to clip their servers' consumption wherever possible.

'Energy has not traditionally been an institutional design criteria. Making products as efficient as possible has not always been a priority for [server manufacturers],' Fanara said.

The metric should include not only the amount of electricity used but also 'some measure of the service being provided,' by the server, such as number of Web pages delivered per kilowatt-hour, Koomey said.

Getting vendors to voluntarily comply with a set of specifications may be a challenge. It's a cost-competitive industry, Fanara admitted. A server builder may be able to cut off some of the cost by going with a less expensive, though less-energy efficient, power supply.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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