Seven steps to a green data center

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While IT has carefully tracked performance and uptime, most IT organizations aren't held accountable for energy efficiency due to the separation of IT functions from the facilities group. The former generates the load, while the latter usually gets the power bill, says Uptime Institute's Brill.

Breaking down those barriers is critical to understanding the challenge -- and providing a financial incentive for change. Better communication among groups is also essential as cooling moves from simple room-level air conditioning to targeted cooling systems that move heat exchangers up to -- or even inside -- the server rack.

The line between facilities and IT responsibilities in the data center is blurring. "The solutions won't happen without coordination by people who hardly talk to each other because they're in different offices or different tribes," says Rocky Mountain's Lovins.

The stovepiping problem has also afflicted IT equipment vendors, says Lovins. Engineers are now specialized, often designing components in a vacuum without looking at the overall system -- in this case, the data center -- into which their component plays. What used to be a holistic design process that optimized an entire system for multiple benefits got "sliced into pieces," he says, with one specialist "designing one component or optimizing a component for single benefits," he says.

Follow the standards

Several initiatives are under way that may help users identify and buy the most energy-efficient IT equipment. These include the 80 Plus program for power supplies, as well as a planned Energy Star certification program for servers. Under a congressional mandate, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working with Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories to study ways to promote the use of energy-efficient servers. A specification could be in place later this year.

The Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC) is also working on a performance-per-watt benchmark for servers that should help provide a baseline for energy efficiency comparisons. The specification is slated for release this year. When completed, the standard will be useful for making comparisons across platforms, says Klaus-Dieter Lange, chair of the SPEC Power and Performance Committee. The group working on the standard is meeting every week, says Lange. The benchmark will measure energy efficiency at different load levels, he says.

Advocate for change

IT equipment manufacturers won't design for energy efficiency unless users demand it. Joseph Hedgecock, senior vice president and head of platform and data centers at Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., says his company is lobbying vendors for more efficient server designs. "We're trying to push for more efficient power supplies and ultimately ... systems themselves," he says.

The Vanguard Group's Yale says his company is involved with The Green Grid and other industry organizations to push for greater energy efficiency. "We're becoming members of that, and I'm involved in different informational organizations," he says. "This is a topic that, industrywide we're discussing, and [we're] trying to work with manufacturers."

For more information about green IT practices, see the following stories:

Greening up is about more than just energy

Data center managers talk about the coveted LEED green-building certification, how they earned it and why it matters to their business.

Opinion: Why environmental groups are wrong about e-waste

'Reupgrading' works better than recycling.

Cool your chips: What's ahead in energy management

One technique works like crisping produce in the supermarket; add-on modules spray water on hot chips at predefined intervals.

Bush signs law to study data center energy usage

The President authorizes the EPA to study energy consumption in servers and processors.

When it comes to IT energy costs, little steps can save a lot

IT managers are turning more attention to the cost of power.

Congress begins push for energy-efficient servers

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

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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