A New Green Gold Standard

A recent Environmental Protection Agency study on energy-saving opportunities in servers and data centers noted that the industry uses an enormous amount of energy -- more than 1.5% of all electricity generated in the U.S. -- and that that number is expected to double over the next five years. So it's no surprise that many people see data centers as a major part of the climate change problem.

But the EPA sees this as an opportunity. Data center operators can take a leadership role as part of the global climate change solution. And toward that end, the agency is working to develop an energy performance rating system for data centers.

Just as it is familiar as a mark of energy efficiency in consumer electronics and appliances, in recent years, Energy Star has become known as a symbol of superior energy efficiency for commercial buildings. The more than 6,200 offices, schools, retail stores, hotels and other buildings across the U.S. that have earned the Energy Star label use 35% less energy and generate 35% less greenhouse gas emissions than average buildings.

With the EPA's energy performance rating for data centers, tentatively planned for early 2010, data center operators will be able to assess the energy use of their facilities and will receive a metric that allows them to compare how they are performing relative to their peers. The rating will compare the energy use of one facility against that of similar facilities across the country, using the EPA's unique 1-to-100 rating system.

Here's how it will work: Data center operators will enter basic information about their energy use and operational characteristics into a password-protected account they establish in the EPA's Portfolio Manager, an online energy-benchmarking tool ( www.energystar.gov/benchmark). A score of 50 indicates average performance. A score of 75 or higher means the facility is in the top 25% in terms of energy efficiency, qualifying the data center for an Energy Star label.

But developing the rating is a complicated process, and much work remains to be done. One of the primary goals was to get buy-in from key industry stakeholders, including experts working on metrics development and a large number of data center owners and operators. After all, what's the point of developing a tool if people might not use it? Well, I'm pleased to report that after discussions with a diverse group of stakeholders, it was decided that the Energy Star 1-to-100 rating will be most effective if it is based on a ratio of total facility energy use to energy used by the IT equipment. Most people know this metric as PUE or DCiE. For Energy Star, the rating will be based on the average ratio for the facility, calculated from 12 months of actual measured data.

The release of the Energy Star rating for data centers will mark the culmination of more than two years of work by the EPA and hundreds of stakeholders. The agency is now nearing the end of a 12-month effort to collect data on energy use and operations from over 100 data centers of all types and sizes. This data, which is being supplied by dozens of forward-thinking organizations, will serve as the foundation for the development of Energy Star's unique comparative energy-efficiency metrics.

But the Energy Star rating for data centers won't be the end of the story. The EPA's ultimate goal is to refine the rating so that it is based on measures that compare the output or work from the data center with its energy use.

Our agency thanks the industry for its support of this difficult endeavor, and we look forward to awarding the first Energy Star labels to data centers, to show all Americans that data centers are part of the climate solution.

Michael Zatzis manager of Energy Star commercial buildings at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For more information, visit www.energystar.gov/datacenters.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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