by Michael Bullock

Energy Star Servers, then Storage and Networks

Mar 06, 20094 mins
Data Center

Data centers are widely recognized as energy hogs. By 2011, they are expected to account for 3 percent of all U.S. electricity consumption, according to the EPA.  Not surprisingly, the government has identified the data center as a great place to start increasing American energy efficiency while reducing power consumption.  Regardless of your political leanings, the writing is on the wall: Efficient IT will be rewarded and inefficient IT eventually will be penalized.

There are several reasons why the IT sector is being targeted by the government:

• It’s a quick fix.  With technology refreshes occurring every three years on average, the IT industry is one of the few places where new technologies can be cut-in quickly.  Contrast this to manufacturing, where machinery typically is expected to have at least a 10-year service life.

• It’s pervasive.  All organizations except the very smallest use IT and have IT needs.  IT is the one area that reaches across industries and government agencies of all sizes.

• It has the cash.  The government believes the IT industry has deep pockets and the financial resources to invest. While this is classic big- government thinking, and it’s debatable as to whether having resources equates to an imperative to spend them, the ROI of energy efficiency is not at issue.  After all, if you can buy a new server that can do the work of five older servers and pay for itself just in power savings alone, why not do it?

In any case, government agencies like EPA (Energy Star) and DOE (Data Center Energy Efficiency Program) are doing excellent work in promoting energy efficiency, as is the Green Grid consortium in the public sector.

Today I’d like to touch on the Energy Star server efficiency project.  Since about half the electricity consumed in a data center is gobbled up by the IT equipment (the other half goes to cooling, humidification and other support services), it stands to reason that improving power efficiency at the server level would be a good thing.

While everyone knows about Energy Star personal computers, refrigerators, dishwashers, air conditions and the like, some are surprised to hear that there’s no equivalent standard for servers, storage and network gear.  However, that’s about to change.

Two years in the making, Draft 4 of the Energy Star “Program Requirements for Computer Servers” was released February 20, 2009.  The final draft is expected to arrive in early April and be approved around May 1. You can check out the details and progression (including vendor comments) by visiting the EPA Enterprise Server micro-site. 

Here are some of the proposed criteria:

• Power supply efficiency. There will be minimum efficiency and power factor requirements at four load points: 10%, 20%, 50% and 100%.

• Idle power usage.  To qualify for Energy Star, a computer’s idle power consumption must not exceed EPA’s defined maximum thresholds.

• Standardized information reporting.  The manufacturer must provide access to standardized data sheets on their web site showing specific models and qualified Energy Star configurations.

• Power and temperature measurements. To qualify for the Energy Star label, a server must be able to provide real-time information on power consumption, inlet air temperature and utilization for all processor cores during normal operation.

As you can imagine, this can get pretty complicated and results in apples to oranges comparisons given the diversity of server types – from standalone 1U to high density rack servers.  Consequently, the current Energy Star requirements have been reduced in scope to cover just 1-4 socket servers, which accounts for the majority of servers shipped on a unit basis. Rack servers will be covered in a later release of the specification.

So when can you expect to see the familiar Energy Star sticker begin popping up in your data center?  Maybe never.  Draft 4 eliminated the requirement that a product must carry the Energy Star label. There was some concern, it seems, that those decals might fall off and get sucked up into the fans. 

So, yes, there are some kinks to be worked out, but over all this is good news for the industry. There’s money to be saved and efficiencies to be gained. In fact, next the EPA will be looking at the power efficiency of storage systems, with discussions beginning sometime this month or next.

As always, thank you for sending comments, tips and topic suggestions to me at


Michael Bullock is the founder and CEO of Transitional Data Services (TDS), a consulting firm helping clients implement energy saving green data center solutions, data center relocations, web based enterprise applications and 24/7 technical operations.