Feds push IT to expend less energy

IT manager Vince Delperdang’s environmental science degree is well suited to the era of global warming — especially in light of a prediction by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that power consumption in data centers will double over the next four years unless companies become more energy efficient.

In a report issued to Congress this month, the EPA called on IT managers to adopt best practices for managing power usage, install new energy-saving technologies and make going green a priority. Otherwise, they will continue contributing to global emissions problems, the EPA said.

“IT is just a complete burden on the environment,” said Delperdang, who manages IT operations at O’Donnell/Atkins Co., a real estate brokerage firm in Irvine, Calif. The burden he speaks of also includes other aspects of IT, such as the solvents used in manufacturing and the mercury built into chips.

Delperdang’s combined interest in computers and the environment has sparked his interest in reducing IT’s power consumption. Unlike many data centers, his is metered so that he can measure how much energy different technologies use. When Delperdang moved off of four direct-attached storage systems to a storage-area network from Pillar Data Systems Inc., the meters enabled him to track power usage levels, so he knows he was able to triple storage capacity and add new servers without consuming more energy.

Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), a nonprofit company that creates performance benchmarks widely used by server vendors, plans to publish a power-usage test suite by year’s end.

Delperdang said he thinks the energy efficiency data produced by the SPEC benchmark will be overstated in the same way that fuel mileage estimates for cars typically are. “But as long as it’s a level playing field, the information may be valuable,” he said.

CFOs may force issue

Ken Brill, founder and executive director of The Uptime Institute Inc. in Santa Fe, N.M., said IT managers should pay attention to the EPA’s report and take action to cut their power usage.

But, he added, big changes may not take place until companies’ chief financial officers take notice of data center power bills and seek to reduce them. “Either IT can deal with this, or the CFO is going to deal with it,” Brill said.

Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who has been advising the EPA on data center energy issues, predicts that SPEC’s new benchmark will prod vendors to improve the energy efficiency of servers. It also should encourage “sensible decision-making” by users, Koomey said, adding that they now have no way to base a purchasing decision on energy efficiency.

But any choice of servers likely will take more than energy efficiency into account. That’s the case for Thomas Zimmerman, vice president of network infrastructure at Cavern Technologies, a Lenexa, Kan.-based company that offers collocation and disaster recovery services from a data center built 125 feet underground in a former mine.

Environmental issues are important to Zimmerman. Because the air temperature in Cavern’s data center typically stays between 60 and 75 degrees, the company’s cooling costs are about 60 percent less than they would be at ground level, he said. In addition, he uses techniques such as positioning IT equipment in a way that maximizes airflow and eliminates data center hot spots.

But Zimmerman said that while he will look at the results of the SPEC benchmark, the most important factor in a server buying decision will be whether he feels the system he’s choosing is reliable and will get the job done. “If a server goes down,” he said, “I could lose my job.”