What's Next for Energy Star

 
 
By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2009-05-26
 
 
 

Two-and-a-half years and one far-ranging equipment specification later, the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program for data center equipment is now looking ahead to providing new levels of environmental guidance.

As of May 15, 2009, CTO/CIOs and data center managers evaluating various brands of servers for purchase have another important factor to consider: whether or not the server has passed the qualifications to wear the EPA's Energy Star label as being energy-efficient and environmentally friendly.

The new specification for servers requires three main criteria to earn the label: accurate power-supply management capabilities, virtualization functionality, and energy-efficiency benchmarks and standards for measuring and reporting energy use.

Servers that earn the Energy Star will be, on average, 30 percent more energy efficient than standard servers, the EPA said. If all servers sold in the United States meet this new specification, energy cost savings would grow to $800 million per year and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from more than 1 million vehicles.

Having that little aqua-colored Energy Star label is a big deal. Last year, more than 35 percent of U.S. households sought out an Energy Star-labeled product [PCs, printers, refrigerators, washers, dryers, etc.] to purchase, with 80 percent of buyers reporting they are likely to recommend those products to others.

IT managers and CTO/CIOs are expected to be looking for that star, just as consumers do. The reasons for doing so are many: immediate hard-dollar savings in operational expenses; reduction of overall power draw to help conserve energy; a lower carbon footprint to aid the environment; and simple good will for partners and customers.

Now that the smaller and mid-size servers specs are in place, Tier 2 is next up: big-hunk servers and powerful new blade servers. Storage arrays are next in line.

Fast track for Tier 2

"We've been trying to fast-track Tier 2," Fanara told eWEEK. "Hopefully, with luck, we'll be done with Tier 2 by the end of the year, which means by January or so.

"Then the hope is to transition, which is usually a six- to nine-month period of time to give  manufacturers the opportunity to move towards implementing the second tier. Which is really more administrative than anything else."

Fanara believes the six- to nine-month window of time is more than sufficient for manufacturers to make adjustments in larger servers and blades based on the Tier 1 requirements. Many manufacturers, including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, EMC, Sun Microsystems, Rackable, Pillar Data Systems, 3PAR, Blue Arc and Fujitsu are already making Energy Star-capable servers.

"They've [some manufacturers] got models which don't meet the second tier but only meet the first tier [requirements]," Fanara said. "They've also got to change their Web sites and make accommodations so that when the proposed second tier comes around [set for October 2010], the only products that can be marketed as Energy Star would be those that meet Tier 2. We don't allow 'grandfathering' in our programs."

Energy Star will be looking at some different benchmarks besides power efficiency, virtualization capability and performance monitoring during this next stage, Fanara said.

"We want to know how good something is at chewing through code, for one thing," Fanara said. "We need to figure that part out, too."

If a data center owner/manager wanted to modify a recent upgrade of hardware that isn't yet Energy Star-sanctioned, could modifications be made that would allow the qualification to be added? For example, changing out the power supplies to newer, more efficient ones made by Emerson, APC or Eaton would be one way to do it.

"That's definitely feasible and doable," Fanara said. "Hard to say it would be worth it in terms of time. But it's hard to say in each individual case. You'd have to have a pretty good handle on all the assets you have. It would be hard to know whether the product is Energy Star-quality or not.

"There's been no easy to track this stuff [in the past]. A couple of years we'll have tools in place to do all of this. I think what is more likely is that as we go forward, people will just say, 'Let's change our procurement policies to make sure we buy energy-efficient servers.' At least rationalize the policy and update it, instead of going retroactive and changing what's already there working for you."

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