The Green Grid consortium has effectively been sworn in as the IT industry’s representative to the US government for IT energy consumption issues.
In a press conference held at the New York Stock Exchange, the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Grid.
It’s solidifying our relationship, so we now know that have those lines of communication open, said Rick Schuckle, Green Grid director. The EPA is endorsing us, he said.
The MoU declares the EPA and Grid’s intention to jointly educate IT managers about the best way to cut IT power consumption, and about how much money that could save for them.
The link between the two bodies has been on the more than likely for some while. The EPA needs the cooperation of the IT industry on technical issues related to power consumption, and the Green Grid – founded only last year as a cross-vendor group focused on energy efficiency – is the vehicle for that cooperation.
This summer the EPA issued a hefty 133-page report in which recommended action by the IT industry and the US government to curb the growth in data center power consumption.
Wherever it says in that report and will work with the IT industry, you can almost write in The Green Grid, said Roger Tipley, another Green Grid director. We intend to be the industry’s voice. But that doesn’t mean we’re lobbyists. We’re techies — just an expert resource on call, he said.
The Grid’s membership has more than doubled since April, and now stands at 92 organizations, including all of the largest server, storage and networking hardware suppliers, alongside software and services suppliers.
The EPA’s publicly declared goals are to reduce IT power consumption in order to make the US economy more efficient, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the recently recruited members of the Grid is Pacific Gas and Electricity, a Californian utility. PG and E is the first utility to join the organization, and it has already been giving rebates to customers who install more energy efficient kit in their data centers.
The irony of a power company giving cash to its customers to encourage them to use less electricity result from the fact that PG and E would rather limit its customers’ consumption than undergo the expense of building out its delivery grids and generating capacity in order to meet demand and maintain supply without brown-outs or blackouts.
There’s a growing consumption of power for compute and storage in data centers. The power companies are saying fine – but you’re not going to get any more power, Tipley said.
In multiple regions across the US utilities are telling data center operators that they cannot pipe in any more electricity. That is separate to the customers who have run out of power, but can at least gain access to more if they are prepared to upgrade their facilities.
Here in New York for example there just isn’t the infrastructure to provide any more power, said Tipley. That’s going to be the case in other cities, like London, he said.
Downtown data centers in New York are dealing with 110-volt power supplies and 10-foot ceilings – that’s a horrible environment to try to build an efficient data center, said Schuckle.
While it was being glad-handed by the US government, the Green Grid was keen to promote its European presence, and said yesterday that it has set up a technical working group and a communications working group in EMEA.
One of the initial goals of the Grid is to determine how to measure the energy efficiency of IT hardware. The EPA also happens to working towards a very similar goal with the expansion of its Energy Star rating system to cover servers.
This is one of the first things to knock out of the way. It’s really a lot easier to focus on the problem if you actually have a measure of energy efficiency, said Schuckle.
Whether you’re a data center manager, or a product manager [for an IT supplier] there’s no reason to change a system unless you know that it’s not efficient, said RT.
The EPA has already requested comments on its proposal for an Energy Star for servers. According to the Grid, the EPA has proposed a two tier system. The first tier would award an Energy Star endorsement servers that had been designed built to certain broad standards or principal, or included certain features.
The second tier would involve some measure of real efficiency, in terms of energy consumed for given workload. But the EPA has yet to define exactly how this would be calculated, Tipley said.
The problem is in determining the workload at which power should be measured and overall energy efficiency determined. The key to the next level of discussion is getting a definition of the useful work that comes out of a data center, Tipley said.
Although that might appear to overlap with existing definitions for benchmark performance tests, performance benchmarks are typically conceived as a way of determining the ultimate or maximum power of a system.
But depending on the power-performance curve for a given system, a simple measurement of power consumed during those tests may not accurately reflect real world efficiency.
If you’re running at 80% of that load in the data center, you’re probably pretty close. But if you’re running at only 20%, you could be a long way off, said Tipley.
Measuring workload or useful work done in a data center is not straightforward, and there are no metrics or measures yet defined, the Grid said
Utilization is unfortunately one of those things that does not compare well between different microprocessor architectures, or power measurement software, Tipley said.
Benchmarking organizations such as the Storage Peformance Council are already considering adding power consumption to their measurements. We want to be influential on benchmark organizations. If they don’t provide the right measures, we might go off and do it ourselves, but we want to make sure they have proper measures of power consumption, said Tipley.
The Green Grid may not consider itself a political body right now, but it might become so in future.
On one front, the technically thorny issue of establishing a measure of energy efficiency is likely to raise some competitive issues and in-fighting, especially since energy consumption is becoming so important to buyers. Vendors will be keen to ensure that whatever method the Grid settles on will be favorable to their products.
On another front, it is possible that governments will in future apply extra taxes on energy in order to help meet greenhouse gas targets, and they might specifically target power consumption at large data centers.
IT is not yet a huge consumer of electricity, and according to the EPA servers and datacenters accounted for 1.5% of all US power consumption last year.
But the absolute value is double what it was five years ago, and the EPA says it could double again in another five years time (although it is not clear whether this forecast takes account of the fact that many data centers have already reached either their building’s limit, or the local power grid’s supply limit).
More importantly, there is huge potential to make IT more energy efficient, and governments might be inclined to make sure that this happens by applying a carefully targeted energy tax. Bear in mind that energy supplier PG and E is already paying its customers to encourage them to use less of its product.