-Efficient”> Andrew Fanara is in a great position. As director of the Energy Star Product Specifications Development Team for the Environmental Protection Agency, the Seattle-based Fanara is, in effect, the EPAs chief evangelist to the server manufacturing industry. Thus, he is charged with getting everybody to agree that we all need to save electrical power.
Nobody is going to argue that point, but theres a lot more to it than that.
Fanara has been traversing the nation for more than a year, talking to, among many others, manufacturers of server boxes and their components, power-supply makers and software companies. Everybody agrees that green is good for the data center but getting there requires strategy changes and substantial investment on the part of a large number of companies. Companies that make servers, switches and storage appliances for data centers—anything run by microprocessors—are being asked by the EPA to use components that require less electrical power (such as Intel and AMDs dual- and quad-core chips) and to continue experimenting with the latest power, cooling and design ideas that the industry has to offer.
Fanara and Energy Star have stepped up and offered to be a sort of governmental “guiding light” for server manufacturers without playing favorites among companies and products. Fanara has said that Energy Star will encourage various local and regional financial incentive programs to get this important ball rolling.
Senior Writer Chris Preimesberger caught up with Fanara at the Data Center World conference in Dallas last month to discuss these programs and more.
Are there any server companies that arent coming aboard with the Energy Star program?
I think that everybodys going to be right there with us. Its true that weve talked to certain folks more than others, but I think its fair to say that all of the folks who are the market leaders—together with a lot of second-tier and even some foreign companies—are going to be on board. Sometimes its just a question of finding the right group to talk to.
In [the IT sector], it has been extremely easy—it has been no work at all. Whereas in so many sectors, over a lot of years, weve been banging on a lot of doors. Oftentimes, the common refrain in the past has been: “Well, when my customers start asking for this, well do something about it.” Those kinds of responses tend to be more and more in the minority now.
In the [IT] sector, its clear that people who operate data centers have been saying to the vendors, “You know, were just amazed at how much the electricity bills are. We are totally unprepared for this type of cost. Youve got to help us out and do something.”
This surprise at increasing power bills is a common refrain. And as a result, the vendors seem very anxious to talk to us—which is very, very rare, because what Energy Star does is identify the best of breed. Oftentimes, its a little uncomfortable for manufacturers of products to not be considered best of breed. So that light that we shine on people sometimes makes them—and others—a little uncomfortable.
This also makes other folks very aggressive and makes them want to make sure their products are up to standards.
IBM, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard all have consolidated data centers. Have you had a chance to take a look at any of them?
Ive not been inside any of those facilities. But, clearly, there are folks in the industry who are taking a leadership role. I would expect, given the breadth of knowledge that an HP has, that they saw a real opportunity there. Ive heard that consolidating 85 data centers down to six [which is what HP did over the last few months] turns out to save a huge amount of money. Even for a company thats approaching $100 billion [in revenue], it is significant, and theyre very, very pleased.
What are the formulas the EPA is using to quantify energy savings?
Thats a good question. The simple ratio of total energy consumption of the data center over IT consumption: In the numerator, it is everything plus the IT—assuming you have a data center subunit in which you know what the numbers actually are—divided by the IT energy consumption. The acronym for it is PUE, for power use efficiency.
HP used it in their consolidation. People say its a pretty good approximation. In some simple cases, its just the reverse—you flip it.
Its really as simple as that. I sort of think of things as a percentage up to 1—some percent efficient, thats the way I think of it. Other people think of it the other way. But the math is the same … we just need to figure out whats the best thing we can do in the short run. And I think, at the same time, [we need to] get the industry to come up with some better benchmark that takes into account the performance of the actual end utilization of things. So thats probably going to take a little while for the industry to develop.
In the federal sector, we need to get going because weve got some mandates and requirements to reduce the energy consumption by 30 percent. Weve got to get going on that. And so, we have to establish a baseline, and wed like to get all the federal sectors measured, and then get them to come up with a plan—a common-sense plan—to implement an energy-efficiency strategy. Then we need to re-measure and see what theyve done. Hopefully, they will have cut 30 percent. Thats a big number there.
At Energy Star, we dont necessarily want to pick technology winners; we dont necessarily want to tell people, “This is the best way to do it.” They have to figure it out for themselves. We guide them. We dont want to bias anyone. There are certain things we could probably endorse or whatever, but we dont want to be the ones who say: “This is a better technology to pursue than that technology.”
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Is the federal government going to use financial incentives to get people to commit to upgrading their data centers?
From a very practical standpoint, we did not address federal incentives. If anything, that requires the mutual attention of way too many agencies.
There are already lots of [built-in] financial incentives for people to try to implement these strategies in the data center. They dont need any federal incentives.
Some regional incentives are happening now, and utilities are the first place where you can look. In fact, I know that PG&E [Pacific Gas and Electric Company in Northern California] has been the first to get out there with tax incentives. Austin [Texas] Energy just kicked off a program that roughly mimics what PG&E is doing. … The Northeast is another area where there are considerable grid liability problems.
How much new investment does the grid need at this time?
The grid needs probably on the order of $300 billion to $500 billion in investment to upgrade the electrical infrastructure. Wheres the money going to come from? Taxes? Exactly. If those investments were made, like any organization, utilities are going to pass on the costs in the form of rate hikes. And they should, because electricity is not free, the grids not free; it costs money to run these things.
So if again, until significant upgrades are made to the grid, the best thing to do is try to reduce stress on the grid. Right now, its pretty high.
What Energy Star has done in the past, and will attempt to do in the future, is identify some key equipment on the IT side—maybe also on the power side—and say, “Lets do what we did for Energy Star refrigerators and air conditioners for servers—the same turnkey approach.”
For the server manufacturers, they have a national program to roll back power usage. Utilities have a turnkey way of doing it in their neighborhood without necessarily having to recreate the wheel. So thats the plan. And I think in the next year, youll see a lot of this happening.
What about small and midsize businesses and closet-size data centers?
For those types of mini_facilities, Energy Star can be really important, because, literally, if you have a small business making buying decisions on one or two servers a year, a rack every now and then, Energy Star makes it really easy to at least remind them, “Hey, theres an energy implication here.” Maybe its the simplest thing they can do, but they get some benefit.
At the opposite end of the spectrum there are some very sophisticated organizations using a lot of modeling and analysis, and we could probably learn a thing or two from them.
At the same time, I think that if we achieve nothing else, we will at least put the [server] manufacturers on notice that theyve got to take energy consumption seriously. At a minimum, what I think we could do at Energy Star is ask the manufacturers to present the information related to energy in a very standardized way.
So, Energy Star is one approach. You could do Energy Star Plus—if you have bought an air conditioner or refrigerator recently, there is a DOE [Department of Energy] regulation that requires all those products to have a standard yellow label on them—standardized information. That information is more useful to you if you know a little bit about it. So if you take that plus Energy Star, you might have enough information to make a smart-enough decision about energy consumption to get you most of the way there.
Will all this effort add up to enough savings to make a difference?
There is this issue: For example, if you got a car that got you 100 mpg, would you do that much more driving? Would you say, “Im going to drive a lot, because the cost of driving is so low?” Probably not. Would your life change so dramatically? Most likely not.
But, on the other hand, if data center resources were freed up, theres always somebody wholl want to use them. Certainly, if youve got an IT budget, youre going to want to use it up. Theres always new ways to apply technology.
We just say this: “Be as efficient as you can for what you have to do.”
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