SANTA CLARA, Calif.-The U.S. Department of Energy, through the Environmental Protection Agency's EnergyStar program, in 2007 asked Silicon Valley systems makers to take a hard look at how they do business and explore whether they could run their operations and produce IT hardware that could be less power-hungry and more environmentally friendly.
Then in August of the same year, the EPA reported to Congress that it is taking stock of power usage in the IT sector, asked for tax breaks for companies that become "greener" and set out some general industry guidelines on how much power could be saved over the next several years.
So a number of key decision makers sat down, asked questions, did some research and came back with an aggregate answer on June 26: Yes, we can, and we can do it within our budgets.
At a daylong conference called the Data Center Energy Summit, organized by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and staged at Sun Microsystems' campus here, SVLG member Teresa Tung of consulting and research company Accenture presented a compilation of a year's worth of data in its Data Center Energy Forecast Report, the executive summary of which can be downloaded here.
Pointing at a chart on Page 7 of the report showing the fast increase in data center power usage recorded over the last few years by the EPA and highlighting several projected future downturn scenarios in that usage (depending upon varying degrees of adoption of best environmental practices by IT systems makers), Tung said the research indicated good things lie ahead.
"We're tracking well with what needs to happen with the EPA report," Tung said in her summary remarks. "The technology is available; it's just about increasing adoption. We're hoping that this project is going to help do that."
Key findings from the research-some of which were already quite apparent to those of us who have been following this story for awhile-include:
- Although data centers continue to be large energy consumers (about 1.5 percent of all power in the United States), the results show that best-practice levels as laid out by the EPA in its general requirement report are indeed achievable in all types of data centers: legacy, new, R&D and production. Good news, and not a surprise.
- Green IT initiatives offer large savings in both power consumption and in bottom-line costs. We knew that.
- There is a gap, however; companies have yet to fully harness IT capabilities, such as consolidation, virtualization, data deduplication and rationalization. That, too, we knew.
- Today's available site technology can achieve state-of-the-art efficiencies defined by the EPA. Not a big surprise.
- Legacy upgrades can nearly match new commissions in terms of efficiency. This was a mild surprise.
"Implementing today's technologies can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions-by up to 8 million cars annually by 2011," the summary said. "Measured results already track the best-case scenarios from the EPA report. Technology is on track for meeting the EPA scenarios.
"Moreover, by increasing adoption of the demonstrated technologies and by improving IT optimization, data centers can exceed the EPA scenarios."
The Data Center Energy Summit presented 11 technology initiatives with 17 case studies. Results were computed in terms of energy savings and its impact on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and costs.
This 2008 effort is the first of an ongoing series to show quantifiable results from adopting new technology, the SVLG said.
Ray Pfeifer, moderator of the event and chairman of the SVLG's data center initiatives, told me that he thought the event-which attracted about 350 company executives, engineers, IT managers, analysts and venture capital folks-fulfilled its mission by bringing a useful report and a set of real-world case studies to prove some points.
"I think we're all pleased at how it turned out," Pfeifer told me. "We were pretty close to the vest about what we were doing, why we were doing it, and what the results were. The takeaway from this, I suppose, is that we can build momentum and get more companies that used to be just observers of the [green IT] process-I call them 'nibblers'-to become 'doers.'"
Even 18 months ago when he started working on this project, Pfeifer said, "When I knocked on companies' doors, I got a lot more 'noes' than 'yeses.' But I was persistent. I just kept going back and back, and finally Yahoo agreed, then Sun agreed. Then we got some traction.
"Post this event, I think we can go back to those companies who kind of sloughed us off before and get them involved now," Pfeifer said.
Ron Croce, an executive with DC power supply company Validus, told me that he got a lot out of the event because it was about "real-life situations, so we weren't talking about theoretical anymore."
The full report will be made available on the Accenture Web site on July 11.