In July, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) responded to Public Law 109-431 with a report to the U.S. Congress that has set a new direction for information technology (IT) facilities owners and operators across the country. The new direction will lead to a new era of “energy efficient and highly available” IT operations everywhere.
Clearly, this change of direction is long overdue, as we have designed and operated our IT facilities for a solid decade with a single-minded focus on “uptime.” Many of us operate legacy data centers with the throttle wide open, with absolutely no control over how to manage server utilization or how to reduce the power and cooling we inject into IT spaces.
The EPA report assesses trends in server and data center energy use and costs, outlines opportunities for improved energy efficiency, and makes recommendations for pursuing these opportunities on a broad basis across the country.
The EPA estimates that data centers located in the U.S. consumed 1.5 percent of all electricity generated in the U.S. in 2006 at a cost of about $4.5 billion. The agency projects that by 2011 total data center power cost will rise to $7.4 billion, requiring the construction of 10 more major power plants. Considering that the Department of Energy and the EPA have consistently discouraged the construction of new power plants in recent years, for both economic and environmental reasons, it just makes since that regulators will now get aggressive about energy use in data centers.
The report outlines three scenarios aimed at improving energy utilization in IT spaces. The “improved operations” scenario envisions changes such as server power management and airflow controls to reduce the waste of energy. The “best practices” scenario anticipates the effects of implementing new technologies such as energy-efficient servers and airside and waterside economizers for free cooling. The “state-of-the-art” scenario takes us into the next generation of data center operations with aggressive server and storage consolidation and virtualization to reduce our space requirements and then liquid-cooled racks and servers to more effectively remove the heat loads from our equipment.
The EPA projects energy savings of 30 percent, 70 percent and 80 percent respectively, for achieving the three scenarious...and that is a lot of power! The report’s analysis also encourages distributed generation technologies, including on-site fuel cells and combined heat and power solutions (CHP), separating technology and facilities loads from the nation’s grid altogether. Distributed generation can make us self-sufficient and more reliable, all at the same time, if we do it right.
The report recommends seven or eight broad-based initiatives to Congress. Together, these initiatives seem intended to get executive management of America’s corporations, U.S-based electrical utility executives, and federal, state, and municipal governments to formalize a public-private partnership for energy efficiency in data centers.
Finally, the report concludes that Congress should treat these findings as a “vision” for future data center energy efficiency and that subsequent federal initiatives should build upon this study in ways that will lead to new industry standards of performance.
The Executive Summary of EPA’s Report to Congress is a must-read for anyone who expects to have a future in the data center industry. Both the complete report and the summary can be found on EPA’s web site at www.energystar.gov/datacenters.
So what can we conclude from all of this high-level rhetoric? What does it mean to data center owners and operators who just want to make sure that their IT operations never fail?
Well, first of all, I suggest that we prepare for one of the most exciting eras in the evolution of servers and data centers ever! We have now initiated legislation that will change the way that we design and operate our data centers for years to come. Many of us like to consider the EPA Report as a formal announcement ushering in a new era of data center energy efficiency and operating efficiency, alike.
Given private industry activities at the Green Grid, the Green Building Council, and similar “Green” organizations … the future is clear. Data center designers and operators will have to make very deliberate efforts to keep abreast of the innovative technologies and best practices that are coming down the pike.
On September 20th, the Critical Facilities Round Table (CFRT) planned to meet in Silicon Valley with Andrew Fanara, director of the US EPA Energy Star Program and author of this Report to Congress. We intend to support Congressional objectives by bringing together representatives of industry and government for the purpose of advancing the cause of energy-efficient data centers.
CFRT is a non-profit organization, based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, dedicated to the success of our member critical facilities owners and operators. Please visit the web site at www.cfroundtable.org or contact them at 415-748-0515 for more information.