US Congress pushes energy-efficient servers

The U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday approved a billrequiring the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to studythe use of energy-efficient servers that can reduce the powerdemand of data centres packed with equipment.

The bill’s author, Rep. Michael Rogers (R-Mich.), said he hopesthe study will help promote the use of energy-efficient servers anddata centers through regulations that encourage conservation byfederal agencies and offer tax incentives to private companies. Thebill, which is co-sponsored by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.), nowgoes to the Senate.

Rogers also believes buyers would benefit from an energy-ratingstandard for servers. The Energy Star rating now widely used onappliances and some computer equipment “changed the dynamics of howwe buy appliances over time,” he said. “People were buying the mostenergy-efficient appliances they could buy — so we saw a modellike that work.”

Rogers’ bill also asks the EPA to devise potential incentivesand voluntary programs “that could be used to advance the adoptionof energy-efficient data centers and computing.”

Power consumption and cooling has been a top issue for datacenter managers because of the ever-increasing growth in serverdeployments. The U.S. server market is expected to grow from 2.8million units in 2005 to 4.9 million units in 2009, according todata that tech industry groups sent to Rogers this month in supportof the bill.

But data center mangers say business needs will play the biggerrole in buying servers.

“When you are looking at this from a business perspective, youwant this stuff to work as quickly and as efficiently as possible,”said Troy Montfort, data center manager at Spectrum HealthHospitals in Grand Rapids, Mich. When it comes to choosing betweena slower server that generates less heat and a faster server, userswill probably go for the faster system, he said.

An energy rating on a refrigerator is one thing, but for aserver, “it’s a whole different world, in my opinion,” saidMontfort. “In [the] health care industry, when I have a doctorwanting … somebody’s record or [a] look at their CT scan … hedoesn’t want to sit and wait for that thing to load; he wants it,and he wants it now.”

Montford said Spectrum Health Hospitals completed a6,000-square-foot data center in May to house some 400 x86-basedservers, and RISC-based and mainframe systems, as well as to handlefuture growth needs. In building the system, Montfort said, thefocus wasn’t, for instance, on buying the most efficientair-handling system. “I wanted the best thing to cover the needs ofwhat I have now, plus the future,” he said.

The energy efficiency of a server “is an importantconsideration, because we have been dealing with power issues,”said Dawn Sawyer, operations managers at GuideStone FinancialResources of the Southern Baptist Convention in Dallas. “It is notthe main consideration, though. Our main consideration on serversis processor speed. That’s going to trump the energy efficiency ofa server.”

Even so, energy ratings for servers may have some use, saidSawyer, who is also on the board of directors of the Data CenterInstitute of Afcom, an association of data center managers.”Anything that is standardized that helps people compare thingsacross the board is a positive.” But she said the real hope forenergy efficiency and speed will rest with technologydevelopments.

The legislation requires the EPA to deliver a report within 180days after the bill becomes law. The Congressional Budget Officeestimates that the study will cost less than US$500,000.

The Energy Star program is a voluntary labeling programdeveloped in 1992 by the EPA and U.S. Department of Energy. It’swidely used in a variety of consumer and building products. A checkof vendor Web sites showed monitors, some PCs and other products ashaving Energy Star ratings. To qualify for the program, productsmust meet certain minimum energy efficiency federal standards thatwere part of the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act in1987.

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