Feds, IT Industry Build Green Way

 
 
By Michael Hickins  |  Posted 2007-09-18
 
 
 
NEW YORK—IT industry leaders signed a memorandum of understanding Sept. 18 with the Department of Energy that puts in place a process for creating metrics that can be used to measure the energy efficiency of data centers.

Leaders of the 92-member Green Grid alliance, most of whom are IT industry executives, say the data center is a focus of their initial efforts for two reasons: Data centers consume a huge and growing amount of energy, and are an easy place to isolate and thus measure.

The DOE pledged to work with the alliance to develop a common set of metrics and tools and to develop a Web site so data center administrators can easily access tools and resources to initiate and implement energy management programs.

The DOE is also putting some federal resources, such as the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, in Palo Alto, Calif., at the disposal of the alliance for testing purposes.

DOE Assistant Secretary Andrew Karsner said at the signing ceremony here that the MOU (memorandum of understanding) also sets a common goal of improving overall energy efficiency in data centers by 10 percent in 2011, factoring in current project data center use.

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"Data centers have one of the fastest industry demand rates, so you have no choice but to set aggressive goals," Karsner told eWEEK.

Data centers used 61 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006, or 1.5 percent of electricity consumed in the United States, according to DOE estimates. Those numbers are expected to grow by 12 percent per year through 2011.

Larry Vertal, who heads up Advanced Micro Devices energy savings initiatives in Austin, Texas, said that energy usage "is a complex problem, but data centers are the place to start because we can have the most impact [on consumption] there."

Rick Schuckle, representing Dell, in Round Rock, Texas, said that "the idea is to step back and look at the data center as a holistic system and really understand how that system, [including] CPU usage, cooling, and networks, consumes energy."

There is more to the story than hardware; Vertal pointed to server virtualization as one of the ways that software developers can impact the data center.

"The best thing you can do is turn off a server that is not in use," he said.

The federal government has another stake in this process: DOE data centers themselves represent 35 of the 500 largest data centers nationwide in terms of power consumption.

But if the two partners agree on the path they need to take, they are not necessarily obeying the same speed limits.

While Karsner said he expects the initial specs for metrics to measure energy efficiency in data centers will be published by December, members of the alliance were less sanguine.

Board members told eWEEK in separate interviews that it will be difficult to develop consensus around metrics quickly, especially given the disparate nature of different data centers.

"It may well be a multi-stage process," said Roger Tipley, an alliance board member representing Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, Calif.

The DOE and the alliance also have slightly different perspectives on how much of the metrics to make public.

Karsner likened the measurements to Energy Star ratings, which, while voluntary, are publicly promoted by companies to prove their energy efficiency to consumers. But alliance members believe that companies might be more comfortable using the metrics to track internal improvement, rather than as a comparative tool to be used against the competition.

But Dells Schuckle said that "the goal is not to try to set a bar that every data center has to reach, but to help companies set goals so that they are more efficient."

Karsner told eWEEK he sees government as an enabler to create a standard yardstick based on best practices "where industry is less likely to do it if left to their own devices."

Energy efficiency is "too important to leave to industry by itself when the national interest is to be as efficient as possible for the aggregate good," he said.

"The punch line," Karnser added, "is that we all get to be more profitable" as a result.

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