Feds to offer energy ratings on servers, storage

The government is currently considering ways to encourage companies to create energy-efficient data centers

ORLANDO -- The federal government wants IT managers to buy data center equipment in the same way that consumers might choose refrigerators or water heaters for their homes: based on the product's Energy Star efficiency rating.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency initiated the voluntary National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program. Part of that effort involves developing specifications to measure, document and implement energy efficiency ratings for enterprise servers and storage devices by the end of this year and to eventually develop specifications for which all IT products in data centers can be given an energy-efficiency rating.

Andrew Fanara is a product development team leader with the Energy Star Program, which is a voluntary energy-efficiency labeling program sponsored by the DOE and the EPA. At the Storage Networking World conference today, he said that while data centers only represent a "few percent" of the nation's overall energy consumption, data center energy use is "highly concentrated" in certain regions of the country and exploding because the services IT provides are rapidly growing. "The best example of that is storage. Storage is growing in leaps and bounds, and there doesn't seem to be any end in site," Fanara said in an interview with Computerworld, which is a co-owner of Storage Networking World, along with the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA).

According to Fanara, despite all the hype that IT managers are hearing about the environmental benefits of virtualization, the growth of storage could offset cutbacks in energy consumption that come as a result of IT consolidation. "The most recent projection I've seen is that the growth of storage will swamp any potential savings that virtualization may provide," he said.

But while virtualization will not reverse the growth of servers and storage in the data center, it will slow it, Fanara said, and that is what the government wants to support, along with the creation of more energy-efficient hardware.

The federal government wants to increase awareness of energy-efficient products in the data center as well as to eventually offer incentives to spur adoption of those technologies.

"We're trying to change the dynamics," Fanara said. "That's already happening throughout most of the world. The vast majority of countries have decided they're going to reduce CO2 emissions."

Fanara said discussions are taking place within the EPA and the DOE about the possibility of modeling a system on the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme, also known as a "Cap and Trade" policy, where limits are placed on corporate pollution emissions and if a company exceeds the limit, it is forced to buy "credits" from competitors who are below their emission limits. In turn, companies can use the sale of emission credits to purchase energy-efficient IT equipment, Fanara said.

Another approach to spurring the adoption of energy-efficient data center technology could be to levy higher taxes on electricity, Fanara said. "At some point. you're going to get some [power] demand disruption," he said. "We can make products consume less while still delivering the same performance. This will all be delivered by smart design with a thoughtfulness on energy consumption and performance."

While the EPA knows how much CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere each year, it doesn't have a handle on what percentage of those emissions the IT infrastructure accounts for. So the EPA and the DOE are calling on the IT community, including SNIA and its vendor members, to help develop specifications to determine the average power consumption of storage equipment, including networks.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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