Many of you know that I have been following the energy and reliability issues in data centers and mission critical facilities for quite some time. In fact, I was covering energy issues forEnergy User Newslong before I helped Peter Moran and BNP Media found Mission Criticalmagazine.

My interest in energy use in commercial buildings, particularly lighting, predates even my time as editor of Energy User News, so I can be excused if recent events in the data center space cause a sense of deja vu.

I think many of you already know that the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has been working hard to make data center operators aware that its Industrial and Process Efficiency program is investing $155 million over the next three years to reduce energy use in data centers in New York State by 840,000 MWh and 1 million BTU. They want to reward Enterprise IT for sustainable, efficient load growth.

This makes sense as New York has the second largest concentration of data centers in the U.S. after only California, according to NYSERDA. And data centers in New York consume ~4.5 billion kWh/yr at a cost of $600 billion. NYSERDA suggests that the energy use of the these facilities will double in the next 3-5 years. NYSERDA also plans R&D, market transformation, and deployment activities.  NYSERDA personnel appeared in force at at least two recent events in New York City, DataCenter Dynamics and The Uptime Institute, to promote the availability of these funds.

In one recent development, The Green Data Center Alliance (GDCA) announced that it had been awarded a $500,000 New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) contract that will help provide a guide for data centers to significantly lower energy consumption.

The funding will allow the Alliance to create a system of best practices for data center operators, rate selected data centers against standard metrics, provide options for participating centers to improve efficiency, and verify data on energy users. 

To achieve significant and long-lasting energy conservation, the GDCA believes it is necessary to view the data center from five (5) distinct disciplines: Engineering & Facilities, Information Technology, Finance, Governance, and Process,” said Derek Schwartz Executive Director & Founder of the GDCA.  “Our membership strongly believes that decisions in each category can have a tremendous impact on overall energy consumption. The most effective strategy for increased data center productivity must consider encompass all areas.”

It should be no surprise that California also has an active program and funds dedicated to reducing energy use in its data centers. Mark Bramfitt, formerly of PG&E, regularly appeared across the country promoting programs in that state. If anything, California is even more of a leader than New York in these matters. And the two states often compete for business and standards leadership.

I distinctly remember a period of time when research proposals written by New York's Lighting Research Center would be countered by proposals from California's Lawrence Berkeley National Lab. In the data center space, LBNL conducts very significant research, although I am not aware of a New York State-based counterpart.

And just earlier this week, the U.S. EPA announced Energy Star for data centers. For the first time, data centers can be qualified for the Energy Star label, if they meet certain data gathering and PUE criteria.

No doubt these are very significant steps in reducing energy use in very energy intensive facilities, and they mostly come soon on the heels of the EPA's 2007 report to Congress on energy use in data centers, so the industry is working very rapidly.

Nonetheless, data centers have largely been given a pass in comparison to commercial buildings. NYSERDA has been funding energy efficiency efforts in commercial buildings in NYS at least since it absorbed the State Energy Office  in the early 1990s. California, too, has taken many steps to reduce its energy use, including Title 24 calculations on lighting energy use. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 banned entire categories of light bulbs, and these restrictions have since been tightened. DOE and EPA have each written performance standards for many categories of products found in commercial buildings, while servers went unnoticed until recently.

While it is true that Energy Star has developed specs for server performance, Energy Star has a had a program for commercial buildings for year but only now has developed one for data centers. That program is based on Power Utilization Efficiency, which itself does not indicate the energy performance of the data center but only its infrastructure. Improve the efficiency of the IT equipment can increase PUE.

PUE is a good first start, and so is Energy Star.

Similarly the USGBC has yet to complete a LEED standard for data centers.

Need proof? According to insideHPC's John West Senate Bill S.3251“Improving Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Use By Federal Agencies Act of 2010″ does not even mention data centers. The bill, according to inside HPC, "includes provisions that mandate the use of 'computer hardware, energy efficiency software, and power management tools' to reduce power consumption in the government’s fleet of personal computers."

Drafters of the bill may have overlooked federal data centers, and they may yet be included. But can you imagine any circumstances that would cause federal energy legislation to overlook any other significant category of building or facility. I can't.

We continue to hear that data center owners and operators have much to fear from federal intervention because of their power-intensive nature, and that might be true. But for now, the kid gloves remain on. Ask the guardians of our commercial buildings what changes government intervention may bring.