Energy Star Moving Beyond Data Servers, Certifying Entire Data Centers

data center energy use graphic image

"For the US in 2006, online data centres accounted for 1.5 percent of the entire country's electricity use - equating to more than the entire state of Massachusetts. " View the chart up close...Really interesting facts/stats! Image via GDS Digital via Flickr CC

Energy Star is ratcheting up its evaluation of data center components, moving from certifying servers to certifying entire data centers. Possibly as early as June of this year, Energy Star will start auditing and certifying data centers that rank in the top 25% of centers for efficiency, helping to give those centers with the most energy-savvy practices a leg-up in the market place, or more specifically, "to assist data center operators in capturing the financial and environmental benefits of improved energy efficiency in their facilities." How Energy Star Will Certify Data Centers
Greener Computing reports, "Once the certification is launched, companies will be able to take an online test to rank how efficient their facilities are. Companies that score in the top 25 percent will then be eligible for an audit by the EPA in order to earn the Energy Star label. Measurements for Energy Star certification will be largely drawn from a data center's power usage effectiveness (PUE) ratio -- the amount of power entering a facility that goes to computing rather than lighting, cooling or other non-computing operations."

What's The Deal With PUE?
PUE is currently a major way data centers gauge how well they're doing on energy consumption, the goal being to get as close to 1 as possible. Google and Microsoft both have data centers that sit at around 1.22, but many factors go into the calculation and measurements need to be taken over a long period of time and conditions to get an accurate PUE rating. The industry average is around 2, however techniques in data center cooling, virtualization, smart algorithms and other advances are helping to drop that number.

Some people in the industry feel that using PUE in the Energy Star certification could prove problematic, as it leaves out other important factors like data center location (putting a data center in a cooler climate, or in smaller, energy effective buildings makes it easier to have a low PUE). But after analysis of data centers, the EPA feels that PUE - or how effectively a data center uses its incoming energy - is the most important part of determining how green a data center is.

The EPA states, "To develop the rating, EPA collected data on energy use and operating characteristics from a large number of existing data centers, including both stand-alone facilities as well as data centers located in office and other types of buildings. The data collection began in March 2008 and ended June 15, 2009 when all participants had submitted at least 12 months of data."

Energy Star manager Alexandra Sullivan states, "We were surprised to find there weren't many operational variables that had a statistically significant impact on PUE. The variability is much more dependent on energy management practices than it is on characteristics."

Energy Efficiency - And Certification - Is Just Plain Smart
According to PCWorld, "The EPA has become increasingly active in data centers. It already has an Energy Star program for x86 servers, a program for storage equipment is underway, and on Thursday it said it had started work on an Energy Star program for uninterruptable power supplies, or UPS systems. Those programs are designed to help companies choose energy-efficient products. The data center program is different in that it is more incentive-based. With public awareness about environmental issues so high, the EPA hopes companies will see an Energy Star rating as a potential marketing tool."

The push for more efficient data centers isn't just an environmental issue - though that alone should be enough of a reason, since data center emissions are approaching that of the airline industry. But it's also a simply smart financial move. About 60% of the energy going into data centers isn't even used on the servers themselves - it's used to keep the servers cool. More efficient use of both servers as well as ways to keep them running coolly drastically cuts how much money is spent on electricity. Everyone from SUN to IBM to Facebook is focusing on creating ultra efficient data centers.

You can check out the EPA's progress on certification standards at the Energy Star website.
Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
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