EPA Begins Evaluation of Data Center Power, Cooling Issues

A workshop and report will outline a breadth of concerns for the server-making industry and ultimately offer suggestions to Congress-and to IT managers-about ways to conserve energy.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-The federal government in December became involved in the issue of power consumption in data centers when Congress passed a bill authorizing the Environmental Protection Agency to take a look at the situation.

Two months later, EPA officials began the process. And Feb. 21, a major industry report was released to start the conversation.

EPA Project Coordinator Andrew Fanara got the ball rolling with a workshop here last week that included representatives from major IT companies, power and cooling service providers, and other various stakeholders. The group's goal is to determine standards for data servers to establish a new "Energy Star" certification in that sector, similar to the Energy Star certifications for such household appliances as refrigerators, washers and dryers.

"We don't want to look at incremental change," Fanara told an audience of about 100 participants at the workshop. "We're thinking whole system design change here. We need to produce more energy-efficient servers, no question about it. This is the group that's going to help quantify all this."

Fanara has his work cut out for him: The report is due to Congress June 16. He wants to provide an overview of what's needed for server makers to bring power consumption down over time.

Industry Leaders Stepping to the Fore

Climbing power and cooling costs have become key issues for companies trying to rein in data center expenses. A number of prominent companies, including Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard, Advanced Micro Devices and Intel, as well as lesser-known ones such as Pillar Data, BlueArc and Rackable Systems, have been proactive in building products that use energy much more efficiently.

Yet the power consumption continues to rise, due largely to the sheer number of servers being put into production, as well as technology that offers smaller form factors that run hot.

The report from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University scientist Jon Koomey, released Feb. 21, estimates that the overall electricity used by servers doubled between 2000 and 2005. Koomey concluded that reasons for this growth rate were not only a sharp increase in the number of servers installed in data centers but also all the necessary ancillary electrical equipment, such as cooling fans and facility lighting.

"Frankly, I was surprised by the doubling of the output," Koomey said at the EPA workshop. "I expected some growth, but not quite as large as what we found."

The report, "Estimating Total Power Consumption by Servers in the U.S. and the World," (Portable Document Format) was funded by AMD and peer-reviewed by the major server and processor makers, including Intel, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Sun and Dell.

"The cumulative energy cost for servers and data centers in the U.S. is approximately $3.3 billion annually, and studies have shown energy-efficient servers can save up to 80 percent in electricity and cooling costs," said Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., who with Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., authored the bill that established the EPA's review of the issue.

"The energy burden of these facilities will continue to grow rapidly, so its critical for government, industry and consumers to be able to identify the most efficient technology to meet their needs."

The U.S. server market is expected to grow from 2.8 million units in 2005 to 4.9 million units in 2009. More efficient hardware is going to be mandatory, the EPA's Fanara said, "and hopefully the Energy Star label will help guide buyers to do the right thing."

"There is a lot of opportunity for improvement," Koomey said.

The workshop resulted in several industry-focused groups comprising companies-focusing on such areas as processors, software and architecture-that will contribute to the final report to Congress.

The report is important, Koomey said, because once power consumption can be quantified, companies can make more informed decisions about how to reduce it and save money. Ultimately, data center managers will be educated about considering Energy Star-certified equipment to purchase.

"The industry knows that one of the first things you need to do to address the problem is to figure out how big it is," he says.

By the Numbers: Data Center Energy Growth in the U.S.

(Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory)
  • 1.2%: Percentage of electrical power currently being used by all television sets
  • 1.2%: Percentage of electrical power currently being used by the State of Mississippi (20 other states are using less power)
  • 1.2%: Percentage of electrical power currently being used by data centers
  • 2.4%: Estimated percentage of electrical power used by data centers in 2012
  • 12 billion: Estimated kilowatt hours of electrical power used for data centers in 2000
  • 23 billion: Estimated kilowatt hours of electrical power used for data centers in 2005

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...