Feds want you to buy IT like your refrigerator

The US government is currently considering ways to encourage companies to create energy-efficient data centers

The US federal government wants IT managers to buy data center equipment in the same way that a consumer might consider choosing a refrigerator or water heater for their home: based on the product's Energy Star efficiency rating.

Last month, the US Department of Energy (DOE) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) initiated the voluntary National Data Center Energy Efficiency Information Program. Part of that effort is developing new product specifications for enterprise servers and storage devices and to assign energy efficiency ratings by the end of this year to those products and eventually to all the products in data centers.

Andrew Fanara is a product development team leader with the Energy Star Program, which is a voluntary energy efficiency labeling program sponsored DOE and EPA. Speaking at Storage Networking World today he said that while data centers only represent a "few per cent" of the nation's overall energy consumption, "it's highly concentrated" in certain regions of the country and exploding because the services IT provides are rapidly growing. "The best example of that is storage. Storage is growing in leaps and bounds and there doesn't seem to be any end in site," Fanara said.

According to Fanara, all the hype that IT managers are hearing about the environmental benefits of virtualization through IT consolidation and energy savings may pale in comparison with the growth of storage. "The most recent projection I've seen is that the growth of storage will swamp any potential savings that virtualization may provide," he said.

But while virtualization will not reverse the growth of servers and storage in the data center, it will slow it, Fanara said, which is what the government want to incent, along with more energy efficient hardware.

The federal government wants to grow awareness around energy efficient products in the data center as well as to eventually offer incentives to spur adoption of those technologies.

"We're trying to change the dynamics," Fanara said. "That's already happening throughout most of the world. The vast majority of countries have decided they're going to reduce CO2 emissions."

Fanara said discussions are taking place within the EPA and DOE about the possibility of modeling a system on the European Union's Emission Trading Scheme, also known as a "Cap and Trade" policy, where limits are placed on corporate pollution emissions and if they exceed the limit, they're forced to buy "credits" from competitors who are under their emission limits and thereby have additional credits. In turn, companies can use the sale of emission credits to purchase new, more energy-efficient IT equipment, Fanara said.

Another approach to spurring the adoption of more energy efficient data center technology could be to levy higher taxes on electricity, Fanara said. "At some point you're going to get some [power] demand disruption," he said. "We can make products consume less while still delivering the same performance. This will all be delivered by smart design with a thoughtfulness on energy consumption and performance."

While the EPA knows how many gigatons of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere each year, it doesn't have a handle on how much of it is represented by IT infrastructure.

So the EPA and DOE is calling on the US IT community, including the Storage Networking Industry Associations and its vendor members to help develop specifications to determine the average power consumption of storage equipment, including networks.

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