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Assessment, incentives key to government's data center energy goals

By Darrell Dunn
March 5, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - More than two dozen technology leaders and representatives from the U.S. Department of Energy met on Friday in Austin to discuss where federal energy-efficiency laws regarding computers should be focused.

Last week's meeting was the second in a series of planned discussions. The next roundtable is expected to be held in Washington later this year.

With more than 70 energy-related pieces of legislation currently being considered in Congress, and a bill signed by President Bush late last year calling for an in-depth study of data center efficiency, increased government regulation seems inevitable.

"The scariest thing most businesses can hear is I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help,' but we really are in a listening mode," Andy Karsner, assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy at the DoE, said during the Austin meeting.

Representatives from the state of Texas and the city of Austin also attended the gathering.

One of the first initiatives expected to come out of the roundtables is a policy to conduct Energy Savings Assessments (ESAs) at the country's largest data centers. A similar and recently completed effort within 200 of the largest heavy industrial businesses identified opportunities to save over 50 trillion BTUs of natural gas, a sum equivalent to the amount of natural gas used in 700,000 U.S. homes annually.

The DoE plans to conduct another 250 ESAs this year.

Keys to improving energy efficiency, participants in Austin said, include assessment, incentives, server consolidation and virtualization. Another recurring theme from technology industry executives was the need for a dramatic shift in the historic separation between facilities and IT personnel.

Paul Perez, vice president of scalable data center infrastructure at Hewlett-Packard Co., said an ongoing effort at the company to consolidate 85 data centers into six has had to include "an integration of the two domains of IT and facilities." Traditionally, he said, "there has been an inconsistency of approach, no common vision and sometimes a lack of trust."

Also needed are methods to document total operational and disposal costs that will drive the decision-making process, he said.

A short-term goal of the DoE and industry initiative is to adopt specifications that will lead to the creation of an Energy Star designation for servers. Qualifying systems could then be easily identified for local and federal purchasing incentives such as rebates.

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in San Francisco has been offering rebates for installation of certain "high-efficiency" servers for about a year, and Roger Duncan, deputy general manager of Austin Energy, said Friday that his company will also offer similar incentives. A "fine tuning" of the utility company incentives is also needed to ensure the assessment process within data centers to meet efficiency criteria for rebates is not too burdensome.

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