EPA cites area where agencies can take lead on energy efficiency

Government should be a model in measuring, reporting on the efficiency of centers housing computer equipment, report says.

The federal government can lead the way in improving the energy-efficiency of data centers by changing the way it designs and operates its own facilities, according to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency to Congress released Friday.

"The government should commit to: publicly reporting the energy performance of its data centers once standardized metrics are available, conducting energy efficiency assessments in all its data centers within two to three years, and implementing all cost-effective operational improvements," the report stated.

The study also recommended that government and industry work together "to develop an objective, credible energy performance rating system for data centers."

Lowell Sachs, a manager of government affairs at Sun Microsystems, said in a statement that the government could help by pushing "for more accountability between those who make the IT purchasing decisions for federal offices and those who ultimately pay the bills."

A data center, according to Jon Weisblatt, senior manager of enterprise marketing at Dell, is generally a large room or building where a company's computing infrastructure is located. Every business and government institution has a data center of some size, he said.

During the past five years, a jump in demand for computer resources has resulted in an increase in data centers and an estimated doubling in the amount of energy they consume, according to the EPA report. "There is significant potential for energy-efficiency improvements in data centers," the report found.

However, the issue has been plagued by the difficulty in defining "energy efficiency for a complex system such as a data center or a server." Sachs said "more consistent data about actual energy use and savings" needs to be made available.

The report recommended that the federal government collaborate with other stakeholders on a comprehensive research and development program to develop technologies and best practices for energy efficiency in data centers.

Meanwhile, a number of large tech companies have announced changes to their data center practices.

Weisblatt said Dell has consolidated more than 24 data centers into two primary facilities. This move has resulted in the centers using less energy, with corresponding cost savings, and has reduced the company's computing footprint.

Last year, Hewlett-Packard said it planned to consolidate its 85 data centers worldwide into six larger centers located in Atlanta, Houston and Austin, Texas. The move was expected to reduce the company's IT spending by approximately $1 billion over time.

Microsoft said it is focused on maximizing energy and design efficiencies in its data centers. The company's data center in Quincy, Washington, is designed to leave a minimal carbon footprint and uses hydropower as its primary source of energy.

Weisblatt said the possibility of data center legislation or setting standards for energy efficiency has been given attention on Capitol Hill. However, a bill could potentially result in systems that over time could consume more energy or be inefficient, he said. Lowell said a provision in one bill, H.R.3221, taps into innovation and progress already being made in the private sector.