Group Creating Tools to Rate Server Power Use

A cadre of companies, including Sun, AMD, Intel, Microsoft and Google, is working on measurements it says will help take stock of server power consumption.

Several top computer industry companies are on the road to creating a universal set of measurements for server power consumption—something they hope will become the equivalent of a server miles per gallon—in an effort to help businesses grapple with rising data center energy bills.

The group, dubbed Eco Forum, includes representatives from Advanced Micro Devices, Google, Intel, Microsoft and Sun Microsystems, as well as the U.S. Department of Energys EnergyStar program.

It is still in the early stages of its work—it has met once thus far on March 27 at Suns corporate campus. However, the group has already started laying the foundations for what it hopes will be broadly acceptable server power consumption measurements, which could be used to determine how much electricity a given machine uses for doing a specific task, allowing similar machines to be rated against each other.

The forums work comes as concerns about server energy consumption are growing among senior IT managers, due to rising electric rates, higher oil prices and hefty increases in new server deployments over the past few years.

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Yet, at the moment, there are no universally accepted tests—like the fuel mileage ratings in the auto industry—available for those managers to use in comparing different machines and making purchasing decisions about them.

If successful, the groups proposed measurements could help create the first broadly accepted server power miles per gallon ratings.

"The consensus among [the group] is that power is a concern—that customers are seeing it, manufacturers are seeing it, and it is something that were all going to need to deal with," said Ed Hunter, director of Sun Microsystems Eco-Responsibility Initiative and one of the Eco Forums masters of ceremonies, in Santa Clara, Calif.

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However, "Theres [also] a consensus that there isnt a good way for customers to really compare the energy efficiency of different products that they might buy. So what were going to try is to drive some measurements for how they might do that."

To that end, the group is defining the set of procedures that people could follow to determine a servers energy consumption—therefore revealing information about its relative efficiency—during a given task.

The procedures to do this will have to be made as specific as possible, defining everything from what performance benchmarks to use to things like the locations of temperature sensors on server racks, to produce results IT managers can use for comparative purposes, Hunter said.

Ideally, the tools would measure the amount of electricity a machine draws at the wall or electrical socket, allowing them to account for its processors, memory and all additional components, including hard drives and power supplies, over different workloads, group members have said.

But given that different companies have different needs—for example, some rely heavily on databases, while others focus on Web transactions—and servers are configured differently to meet them, the group has said it will aim to create a suite of metrics.

Next Page: Choosing relevant benchmarks.