Servers Get EPA's Energy Star Ratings
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The Energy Star program launched in 1992 and has been adopted by many nations around the world. Devices carrying the Energy Star logo, which range from computers to kitchen appliances to whole buildings, on average consume 20 to 30 percent less energy than non-compliant products.
Today now marks the first time it's being offered for servers. The reason is simple: Servers simply weren't on the EPA's radar until recently. It's only in the last few years, with the growth of datacenters the size of football fields, that the EPA has taken notice.
"Frankly, datacenters didn't get on my radar screen for a long time," Andrew Fanara, program manager at Energy Star, told InternetNews.com. "We were chugging through the obvious [markets] that were easy to knock out. Then you've got to do care and feeding of those specs you create. We eventually got around to enterprise IT."
Due to the complexity of the task, it's taken a few years to get a specification for servers, even with hardware companies that have been willing partners in the energy efficiency area, he added.
"We wanted to get it right. The spec today defines what Energy Star is and vendors can begin today to publicly advance their efficient products based on our criteria," Fanara said. "We're already working on the next iteration of the spec, a storage spec due in the next two to four weeks, then a spec for networking equipment."
From there, the EPA plans to work on benchmarking the whole datacenter building, right down to the power systems, uninterruptible power supply systems and other parts of the facility.
The release on Monday will cover the "Tier 1" standard for the servers (details here in PDF format). The more comprehensive "Tier 2" standard will combine computing performance and energy efficiency. The first draft of the Tier 2 standard will be released shortly after the Tier 1 spec is launched and is expected to be completed around October, 2010.
While servers haven't been eligible for participation in Energy Star until now, the industry has had numerous efforts of its own independent of the government. Most major hardware firms have worked with the EPA, and Fanara estimates that about 25 percent of products will meet the specification requirements right off the bat.
"A lot of specs are taken from existing products," he said. "We're not telling them, 'Go out and redefine your products.' We're trying to reflect what exists in the market place today so they can go out and buy it."
In fact, Subodh Bapat, vice president of energy efficiency and distinguished engineer at Sun Microsystems, said that the power supply spec was more or less handed to the EPA by the industry. The Climate Savers group came up with its own spec for power supplies, which used Energy Star as its benchmark.
"We as an industry told the EPA we have already came up with our own power supply specs," Bapat told InternetNews.com. "It shows when the industry recognizes a problem and gets together and establishes a set of targets and goals ahead of the regulators, it makes the job for the regulators a lot easier."
The five criteria of the new Energy Star logo program are: a very efficient power supply; a power supply with a good power factor to make it more efficient; better power management in the server to monitor process utilization and temperatures, and to adjust power draw accordingly; has an idle power draw that is much lower when compared to other servers; a completed power and performance datasheet.
As for the last item, the EPA will provide the blank sheet, which Fanara called "the resume for the server." It has data fields on the specs that the vendor has to fill in, something found in other Energy Star appliances.
Walk through the refrigerator section at your local Best Buy and you'll see the Energy Star label with the specs on power draw on each refrigerator, except perhaps the cheap ones. It may or may not play into your buying decision. Don Carli, senior research fellow with The Institute for Sustainable Communication, said Energy Star for servers will be much more important.
"Without question, it's a good thing," he told InternetNews.com. "Frankly, I think it will be tablestakes. You will have to have this to buy in, like in poker where you've got to put money on the table to be there before you can play."
[cob:Special_Report]Carli said the concern about IT's power draw is spreading through companies as they realize their datacenter is causing the lights to dim in the rest of the company. "It has become a mainstream concern that the amount of energy demanded by datacenters is unsustainable, that there is broad recognition that we can't continue on a business as usual course," he said.
Bapat agreed that this will become a purchasing criteria. "When people issue an RFP, at least in certain sectors like the federal government or some enterprise customers, people will ask for Energy Star compliance, but it will be one of several factors. We think it will be one criteria, it's not the only thing you should look for and it's not the only criteria," he said.
Fanara said the program is designed to help the vendors and customers, not twist arms. "We want to give people a marketing tool they can use today and customers can use tomorrow to make smarter buying decisions," he said.
If anything, Carli said, the industry has wanted this for a while due to the fact there was no way to independently verify all the green claims vendors have been making.
"They need an independent, third-party validation of their claims. They needed to be able to say they are doing something environmentally responsible and they can say it because they meet the following criteria," he said.