Wanted: Energy efficiency standards for data centers

Companies in the midst of consolidating their data centers to save energy and cut costs are looking for some standards assistance. What's needed are yardsticks for rating the energy efficiency of data centers and tools for monitoring energy consumption in multivendor environments, said speakers at the Green Grid's first Technical Forum, held Tuesday in San Francisco.

Allstate Insurance Co., which is consolidating four data centers to two, is pursuing a silver rating from the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard for sustainable construction for its second data center, slated to open in the spring of 2009. However, "LEED is not designed for data centers but focuses on commercial buildings with people" in them, said Brandi L. Landreth, director of continuity management and data center strategy at the insurance company. She called for a ratings standard that would apply specifically to data centers.

Landreth also called for the technology industry to create a tool for monitoring and managing energy consumption across multivendor systems, and she suggested that vendors should provide clear product road maps that would enable customers to plan their data centers for the next two, five and 10 years. She acknowledged, however, that it would be impossible to predict as far ahead as five or 10 years.

Furthermore, Landreth urged attendees to consider the data center's physical building and IT systems as a holistic entity when drawing up their green computing plans, saying that electrical vendors are now starting to network-attach their systems for easier monitoring.

Education required

A number of speakers at the Green Grid event said user education was the first challenge to greening their data centers. Educating internal users -- even IT staffers such as application developers -- and computer component vendors of the need to focus on data center efficiency instead of raw speed and power were two such challenges.

"We had to educate our applications department that there would be no loss of performance" from their servers due to consolidation, Landreth said. The development department was told to either use Allstate's virtualized servers or pay for their own. The department chose the free processing.

At Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP), which three years ago consolidated from 20 data centers to two, going green meant talking to new partners -- computer component manufacturers -- instead of the usual computer hardware suppliers, said Renalto Crocetti, corporate vice president at the payroll services company.

When Crocetti first started to discuss energy efficiency with component manufacturers, such as storage and processor vendors, they still had "automobile syndrome," preferring to "race for raw speed and power" rather than energy efficiency, Crocetti said. This has changed, he added.

Jim Miller, assistant vice president of IT at Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co., said he spends much of his time meeting with IT equipment vendors "to influence their future products to reduce power and heat load." Another challenge for the industry is to "debunk bogus claims" by some vendors that jump on the green computing bandwagon without producing technologies that genuinely meet the needs of companies that want to reduce their energy consumption, Miller said.

The payoff

Allstate decided to consolidate from four data centers to two, which included adding 15,000 square feet of raised floor space to its existing facility in Ohio and breaking ground on a new data center in Illinois. This new facility is slated to open in the spring of 2009. The new data center will sport a reflective roof, a closed-loop system in the cooling plant and native landscaping. It will also have natural lighting in the administration areas.

Virtualization is the goal of the data center and will be achieved through the use of blade servers, multiprocessing systems and storage-area networks, said Landreth. Other means of improving energy efficiency, as promoted internally by Allstate, include power management software on PCs and the suggested use of thin clients by end users.

Allstate projects that it will reduce its energy demand by 450% over the next 15 years.

Along with reducing the number of its data centers from 20 to two and using technologies such as virtualization and multicore systems to save energy costs, ADP is considering ways to enable people to work from home and investigating telepresence videoconferencing to save on air travel. Crocetti said since the company started its green journey three years ago, it has reduced its data center footprint from 200,000 square feet to 45,000 square feet, halved its power consumption to 2500 kilowatts and seen $3 million per year in electricity savings.

Enterprise Rent-A-Car has two data centers in Missouri: one that was opened June 2001 and another that was expanded by 30,000 square feet in 2006 to support a new cooling infrastructure. Perot Systems Corp. hosts the data center needs of Alamo Rent a Car LLC and National Car Rental, which Enterprise acquired last year.

Miller said the data centers are hot aisle/cold aisle-oriented, which makes cooling more efficient and uses virtualization through 170 Windows images on 10 servers. Enterprise has also replaced traditional PCs with thin clients at its branches. The company's energy efficiency efforts have netted savings of 3,247 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, said Miller.

This story, "Wanted: Energy efficiency standards for data centers" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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