How Green is IT's Future?

The EPA expects power consumption at data centers to continue growing, but some systems makers see a time when facilities won't need cooling.

STANFORD, Calif.-When Steve Sams looks into the not-so-distant future, he can see a time when data centers will no longer be the power-consuming beasts they are now.

And when he looks around now, he sees the seeds of those self-contained data centers already being sown.

"We do have a number of data center components now available that are rugged enough to withstand constant 50-degree Centigrade [122-degree Fahrenheit] temperatures," Sams, IBM vice president of global sites and facilities, said at the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit here Aug. 3.
"It's not hard to imagine that well eventually get to full data centers that won't need cooling equipment. These will be hundreds of times more efficient. And what a savings in power draw that will be."

Power, cooling and energy efficiency have become key issues in the IT industry as data centers become more densely populated by power-hungry systems and businesses move away from paper-based processes to digital information management.

It was the same story at the event here, as officials with IT vendors, analysts and attendees wrestled with myriad aspects involved in the issue.


Click here to read more about the future of "no cooling necessary" data centers.

A key part of the discussion was a report submitted to Congress Aug. 2 by the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program outlining the energy challenges facing the IT industry and possible steps that can be taken to alleviate some of the problems.

It won't be easy, though, according to the report. The technology sector is seeing power consumption rise rapidly. The EPA estimated that the IT industry consumed about 61 billion kilowatt-hours in 2006-about 1.5 percent of the total electricity consumed in the United States-at a cost of about $4.5 billion. Power consumption in the industry could nearly double by 2011, the report said. Federal servers and data centers accounted for about 10 percent-or 6 billion kw/h-at an electrical cost of about $450 million.

The EPA also outlined some ways to mitigate the issue, including standardizing metrics for data centers, creating an Energy Star performance rating system and giving financial incentives, such as tax credits and utility rebates. Reaction to the EPA report here was generally positive.

"It should significantly boost awareness of the energy issues associated with our ever-increasing reliance on computers, and it provides a very preliminary set of benchmarks," Eric Birch, executive vice president of thermal and airflow solution provider DegreeC in Milford, N.H., told eWEEK.


To view an eWEEK slideshow on greening the virtual world click here.

"I expect many organizations-corporations, universities, cities and states-will find various stakeholders asking new and more pointed questions about what's being done and what's the plan," Birch continued. "The questions may come from the desire to go green, or they may be mainly about the money, but by September [after everyone returns from vacation], all sorts of organizations will need to have some answers for such questions their stakeholders will be asking."

The report is a key step in educating customers, policymakers and the public on opportunities to conserve energy in data centers, said Paul Perez, vice president for scalable data center infrastructure for Hewlett-Packard, in Palo Alto, Calif.

"HP is reviewing the EPA's recommendations on standards, research and development, and partnerships to determine possible adoption of policies that encourage the public and private sectors to use available technologies to reduce data center energy consumption," Perez said.

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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...