Congress to Vote on Data Center Power Bill

The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote on a bill that would have the EPA study energy efficiency in data centers, an issue of increasing importance to the tech industry.

Congress is about to take up the issue of energy efficiency in federal and private data centers.

The House of Representatives is expected to vote July 12 on a bill asking that the Environmental Protection Agency conduct a study on power consumption in data centers, what chip makers and systems manufacturers are doing to increase energy efficiency and what incentives could be used to convince people to adopt energy-efficient data center technology.

House Bill 5646 was discussed by legislators July 11. If the House passes the bill, the Senate will take it up, said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Michael Rogers, R-Mich.

Eshoo said there was little debate on the bill July 11, and she expects easy passage by the House.

"There are two things that really drive our economy," said Eshoo, who with Rogers is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "One is technology, and the other is energy. I think this bill is a good marriage of the two."

She estimated that data center operators in the United States spend about $3.3 billion on power every year, and said she expects that number to increase rapidly.

The bill calls for the EPAs Energy Star program to conduct the study and report back to Congress within 90 days. Eshoo and Steve Kester, manager of government relations for AMD, said they are seeing wide support for the bill among a number of players, including Republicans and Democrats alike, as well as industry players and environmental groups.

"This is broad-based support for something that really is a no-brainer," said Kester, who was in Washington for the House discussion on the bill. "We have to address this. Its a critical issue. And the good thing is that, at the end of the day, its going to save everyone money, the industry, the government and even the consumer who uses their computer at home."

Kester said the bill is the first step in looking at how to manage the issue from the demand side rather than on the supply side, where the pressure is to find new sources of energy and to create more efficient products. The EPA now wants to find out how these products are being used, and how to increase their use.

"Energy efficiency and conservation are every bit as important as finding new supplies," he said.

The bill looks at what is becoming a rising concern in the technology industry. Data center operators are seeing energy costs soar due to more power processors, increasing server density and rising power costs. The heat generated from the newer systems also is forcing businesses to spend more to cool the facilities.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read about what Hewlett-Packard is doing to cool down the data center.

Chip makers and OEMs are working to make their products more energy-efficient. Processors manufacturers like Intel and Advanced Micro Devices are putting such features as multiple cores and virtualization capabilities into their chips, and driving down their overall power envelopes. Kester said AMD has products on the market now that are 80 percent more energy-efficient than chips of two years ago. Systems makers are using various hardware and software products to help ease the power crunch.

Sun Microsystems is aggressively promoting its eco-friendly products and policies. The company in 2005 unveiled its UltraSPARC T1 "Niagara" chip, which offers up to eight cores in a single processor that consumes less power than traditional chips from Intel and AMD.

In addition, Suns iWork program is designed to help employees work from home, saving energy costs for the company and easing the strain of commuting on the environment, said David Douglas, vice president for eco-responsibility at the Santa Clara, Calif., company. He estimated that the program saved Sun $50 million in 2005.

Douglas said the House bill is "an important first step" in raising awareness and addressing the issue of power in the data center.

"A lot of the discussions I have with customers are about power issues… A lot of our customers are maxed out in the data center as far as cooling is concerned, its expensive to build new ones, and theyre starting to see that energy bills are" becoming the top expense, he said.

Sun, AMD and Intel are among the technology vendors who in April joined with the EPAs Energy Star program to start developing a way of helping users measure server power. Such metrics—similar to miles-per-gallon for automobiles—would help users compare the energy efficiency of servers from competing vendors.

Also in April, Sun, AMD, Intel and Hewlett-Packard joined with the EPA and the Alliance to Save Energy in creating the Green Grid Alliance, which is looking to address power consumption from a number of angles, including how centers are designed and what products are used. Other vendors, including Dell, VMware and American Power Conversion, have since joined the group.

Douglas said some sort of rating, such as the Energy Star ratings on appliances, could help users that are concerned about power. "It simplifies the process for people in making a good decision," he said.

Some vendors also have introduced their own metrics, such as Suns SWAP (space, watts and performance) to gauge data center efficiency. However, industry observers say that what is needed is a universally accepted measure that is not vendor-specific.

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