Facing mounting congressional pressure, federal data centers are going green, consolidating servers and turning up the thermostat on overchilled computer rooms. But the change has been slow, hampered in part by a lack of agreement about how to measure and manage energy consumption.
Data center operators — both in the public and private sectors — are wary of sharing their energy use data with outside organizations, says Michael Zatz, manager of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Commercial Buildings Program. Of these, federal data centers have been the most reticent, says Zatz, who is also working on green IT efforts with the CIO Council.
Of the 200 data centers that by June agreed to participate in a yearlong data collection effort by EPA, nine are federal centers — representing four agencies and one Energy Department lab, he says.
EPA, Energy and data center equipment makers — armed with new energy measurement and management tools — think they can change some minds. In June, DOE released DC Pro, an online software tool designed to help data center operators understand how and where they use energy. Based on the information gathered from data centers, EPA promises to begin providing the Energy Star label in 2010 to data centers that achieve a high level of energy efficiency (www.energystar.gov/datacenters).
Zatz says the latest technology upgrades make him hopeful that federal data center and facilities managers will act together to gauge the ebb and flow of energy into their centers and the relative use of that energy by IT equipment. “Data center managers are arguing less about what constitutes best energy-use metrics,” he says. “The main theme you now hear in conversations is the need to start measuring something, the idea being that you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
What EPA has measured so far is staggering: U.S. data centers used 61 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2006, representing 1.5 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption and double the amount consumed in 2000. Federal servers and data centers account for approximately 6 billion kWh of this electricity use, at a cost of about $450 million annually.
Part of that growth since 2000 can be attributed to a lack of knowledge, according to an April 2008 report from the Uptime Institute and McKinsey Global Institute: “Facilities have intelligence on IT power consumption, but no insight into how IT equipment is being utilized, how efficiently power within IT hardware is being utilized, nor what the future is. This leads to over-provisioning.”
Moreover, data centers or IT chiefs seldom see their electricity bills.
“If state-of-the-art technology were adopted, energy efficiency in this sector could be improved by as much as 70 percent,” contends Paul Scheihing, who leads the DOE Save Energy Now data center program.
As part of its initiative, Energy is creating a program to certify data center energy-efficiency experts and to recognize best-in-class data centers, Scheihing says. The idea behind these two efforts is to create a cadre of people and organizations who can then help other data centers and their managers reduce energy consumption through smart IT use and better facility design and management.
From Measurement to Management
Measuring energy use is only the first step. To manage energy use, agencies need a way to gauge the useful work performed versus the energy consumed by their data centers. To that end, The Green Grid, a consortium of more than 190 companies including vendors, end users and data center operators in North America, Europe and Asia, has crafted the Data Center Energy Productivity metric. DCeP measures overall work product of a data center per unit of energy expended to produce that work.
fact: 12% Estimated annual growth of energy consumption by federal data centers based on current trends
The Green Grid was one of the first groups to develop metrics for the complex ecosystem of data centers. Board member Larry Vertal says the group is working closely with EPA and DOE: It is assessing some EPA data centers using Grid metrics, and at DOE, it will help develop a common set of best-practice information, terminology and tools for U.S. data centers. One goal is to provide federal data centers with information about how energy consumption breaks out relative to IT and facility demands.
One of the biggest challenges is defining just what the work product is, says Zatz: “There’s no consensus as to what ‘work output’ is. It will vary depending on the type of facility in question.”
A method for measuring data center productivity would build on The Green Grid’s DCeP metrics and Power Usage Effectiveness rating. What data center operators need, says Zatz, is a way to quickly estimate the energy efficiency of their data centers, compare the results against other data centers and determine whether any energy-efficiency improvements need to be made.
In most cases, data center operators in the public and private sector will find that IT equipment and the data centers that accommodate them are grossly inefficient, says Kenneth Brill, executive director of the Uptime Institute. “There are so many things you can do to increase the efficiency of existing data centers,” he says. “Just by turning stuff off — servers that are not being used — you can save 30 percent immediately.”
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