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Congress begins push for energy-efficient servers

But don't look for Energy Star ratings on your servers anytime soon

July 12, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - WASHINGTON -- The U.S. House of Representatives today approved a bill requiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the use of energy-efficient servers that can reduce the power demand of data centers packed with equipment.

The bill's author, Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Mich.), said he hopes the study will help promote the use of energy-efficient servers and data centers through regulations that encourage conservation by federal agencies and offer tax incentives to private companies. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), now goes to the Senate.

Rogers also believes buyers would benefit from an energy-rating standard for servers. The Energy Star rating now widely used on appliances and some computer equipment "changed the dynamics of how we buy appliances over time," he said. "People were buying the most energy-efficient appliances they could buy -- so we saw a model like that work."

Rogers' bill also asks the EPA to devise potential incentives and voluntary programs "that could be used to advance the adoption of energy-efficient data centers and computing."

Power consumption and cooling has been a top issue for data center managers because of the ever-increasing growth in server deployments. The U.S. server market is expected to grow from 2.8 million units in 2005 to 4.9 million units in 2009, according to data that tech industry groups sent to Rogers this month in support of the bill.

But data center managers say business needs will play the bigger role in buying servers.

"When you are looking at this from a business perspective, you want this stuff to work as quickly and as efficiently as possible," said Troy Montfort, data center manager at Spectrum Health Hospitals in Grand Rapids, Mich. When it comes to choosing between a slower server that generates less heat and a faster server, users will probably go for the faster system, he said.

An energy rating on a refrigerator is one thing, but for a server, "it's a whole different world, in my opinion," said Montfort. "In [the] health care industry, when I have a doctor wanting ... somebody's record or [a] look at their CT scan ... he doesn't want to sit and wait for that thing to load; he wants it, and he wants it now."

Montford said Spectrum Health Hospitals completed a 6,000-square-foot data center in May to house some 400 x86-based servers, and RISC-based and mainframe systems, as well as to handle future growth. In building the system, Montfort said, the focus wasn't, for instance, on buying the most efficient air-handling system. "I wanted the best thing to cover the needs of what I have now, plus the future," he said.

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