Data Centers to Become Energy Stars

Carl Weinschenk

Carl Weinschenk spoke with Kfir Godrich, CTO, EYP Mission Critical Facilities.


Weinschenk: What is involved in making data centers compliant with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)?
Godrich: The issue of making data centers LEED-certified is very tough. The requirements are mostly for the general buildings. Data centers operate on a 7/24 basis. This is one of the excuses for data centers to do nothing for energy efficiency. The first LEED data center that we built we finished three years ago for Fannie Mae. Until three years ago, not too much was done in this way. It was considered too costly.


Weinschenk: What is the added cost for efficient LEED-compliant data centers?
Godrich: We built the Fannie Mae facility for .75 percent over budget. If it had been a Silver [level certified] LEED data center, it would have been 1.5 percent over the budget of doing it without LEED. The jump to Gold level may be 5 percent, which is quite a lot of money. We are building Greenfield data centers for $100 to $120 million. So if I am building such a data center, it will add 5 percent on top of the $120 million. That's quite a lot of money. So somebody has to be committed to that. Three years ago there was not too much of that.


Weinschenk: Are things moving in the right direction, at least from the point of view of energy-sensitive individuals?
Godrich: We are doing at least LEED-guided construction, which is basically going in the LEED direction and trying to do as much as we can. If can't do something [at the LEED level], we say why. At the other edge, we are involved financially with not only Gold but even Platinum-level construction. This is very hot right now. This kind of thing (involves) looking at the facility down to the level of the stairwell. So in the end it leads to LEED utilities, water, gas and electric - down to the level of the power to the server. So (if I am building LEED-certified), I want to use waterless urinals, I want to use a green roof, I want to use white reflective materials. On the other hand, until the last several months, nobody said anything about the servers themselves because nobody had control over what technology companies were selling.


Weinschenk: What was the problem?
Godrich: They didn't have the ability to demand efficient servers. In August this changed. There now is public law 109-431, a federal law. Basically it requests the EPA to introduce studies to promote the use of energy-efficient computer servers. This is similar to refrigerators with Energy Star ratings. So the EPA has to look into servers based on this law. They want to understand what the problems are. The EPA is saying, "OK, there is this public law saying we have to assess energy on and from the data center." As a country we are looking at what is going on in the data center.


Data centers used about 1.5 percent of U.S. energy consumption by the end of 2006. That means $4.5 billion per year. By 2011 they are assuming 2.5 percent of U.S. energy, or $7.5 billion. All this is a burden to the nation. Computing performance in 2000-2006 increased 25 times, but the energy efficiency of computers only increased eight times. These kinds of things are creating all kinds of problems inside the data center.


Weinschenk: What is the EPA's role?
Godrich: EPA is tasked with enforcing the law, basically implementing the output of this law. They have to understand what the story out there is. There is the public market and the private market. All the public data centers in the U.S. must be audited in two years. Usually if the public market does something good, the commercial market will decide to do the same or better in parallel. The EPA on August 2 submitted the EPA Report to Congress on Servers and Data Centers.


Weinschenk: What did it say?
Godrich: The bottom line is that there now is a two-step process in which the EPA will basically create an Energy Star program for servers. In two years from now or less, you will be able to buy a server that has a sticker on it saying Energy Star 80, Energy Star 90. We don't know yet what ratings are going to be. It is my view that they are doing it in two steps because all kinds of companies will be embarrassed (if it is done quickly). They are not trying to embarrass, but to get them to do better. The first step is to see where we are. The second step is to create limitations and enforcement mechanisms and say we are going to put the line at over 80 percent efficiency or 90 percent. That means that the amount of power out divided by the power in is 80 percent, 90 percent or whatever.


Weinschenk: What impact will this have?
Godrich: This is going to change totally the way people are buying servers. Right now, very few people purchasing servers actually are looking or asking for any efficiency. When you have Energy Star in the spec, it will say it has Energy Star 90 or better than 90 percent. When people compare HP, IBM, Dell and others, this is what they are going to look at. If it generates the same amount of computer processing, the same MIPS, with 1 or 2 percent less energy, it means they are saving lots of money.


The power usage in the data center bill is 30 to 50 percent of the total operational budget. Out of this 30 to 50 percent, about 50 percent is the server power. In a tier 4 data center with 100,000 square feet, the operational cost is about $20 million per year. You are talking about a utility bill of $10 million per year, out of which $5 million is server powering. Now it is running at 75 percent, maybe 80 percent, in the best case. If that jumps by 10 percent, a million dollars is saved immediately. You are saving $500,000 on powering and $500,000 on cooling. That's the minimum.


Weinschenk: It seems likely that other incremental efficiencies will be generated. Is this so?
Godrich: This has happened already. For instance, HP has Dynamic Smart Cooling, which they announced with us. Dynamic Smart Cooling attacks cooling in the data center, which is the biggest use of energy in the data center. Another issue is the UPS market, which is trying to push the envelope more and more. They are aiming for 94 percent or 95 percent UPS efficiency.

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