Energy Costs Are up; Time to Get Seriously Green?


Now that energy costs are on the rise again, there are no doubt some enterprises that are lamenting the fact that they didn't take energy conservation seriously enough these last few months.

But if necessity really is the mother of invention, then the moderate spike in oil prices this summer may be just what is needed to foster greater data center efficiency before another full-blown crisis is upon us.

The EPA is certainly well aware of the impact another price hike would have on the nation's information infrastructure, and the broader economy, which is why it is extending its Energy Star rating system, most commonly seen in consumer goods like refrigerators and washing machines, into server technology. The agency will offer ES ratings on non-blade x86 servers with up to four processor sockets and at least one hard drive, with the estimate that nearly 25 percent of current server shipments will qualify for a logo and will possibly be eligible for rebates from local utilities.

The program is not without its flaws, however. First and foremost is the fact that the spec only measures consumption while idle, rather than consumption compared to the amount of work done. There is also the possibility that a server could gain an ES logo right off the assembly line only to be reconfigured in the channel to exceed the rating. The EPA is already working on a second standard that would measure efficiency under certain workloads, and is gearing up to set specs for storage and networking gear as well.

But while these efforts will likely have an impact on the data center portion of the enterprise, the fact remains that little is being done in the other major energy cost center at most organizations: the PC infrastructure. Forrester Research estimates that only 13 percent of large and mid-sized enterprises have a PC power management system in place, while only another 18 percent have launched limited programs. That leaves more than two-thirds of organizations out there with no power management at all, with many managers arguing that power conservation outside of the data center is not IT's function, according to Forrester.

All this focus on hardware consumption is understandable, but it's only half the story, according to Forbes.com's Ed Sperling. He says even greater efficiencies can be realized by rewriting our software. For years, the software industry was driven first by functionality, then security, employing redundancy techniques like mirroring and replication to create massive applications, middleware and OSes that used up compute cycles as fast as they could be installed. Now, taking a cue from the mobile industry, developers like Microsoft, IBM and Sun are starting to write code to make more efficient use of available resources, although it could be a while before all of that inefficient legacy software is purged from the enterprise.

Investing in energy efficiency is tough to do during an economic downturn. It's times like these when enterprises tend to hunker down and wait for cash flows to pick up again. The danger, though, is that as the economy begins to brighten, costs for capital goods, particularly green ones, will start to climb, which means you'll have to pay more upfront for greater savings down the road.

"Strike while the iron is hot" is how the saying goes. These days, maybe it should be "Strike while green is still cheap."