Will The EPA Report Be A Catalyst?

Will the EPA report be a catalyst for change in the data center industry? A discussion with Eric Birch of cooling specialist DegreeC.

Will the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on Enterprise Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, which was delivered to Congress on Aug. 3, be a turning point in the effort to improve the efficiency of data centers? Or will its recommendations be deflected or undermined by competing agendas within the industry? Last week I discussed the report with Eric Birch, executive VP of data center cooling specialist DegreeC.

"We all tend to imagine a government reports will have more impact than it actually does," said Birch. "But the EPA report is useful because it frames the debate effectively. They can help people understand the scope of the problem. I'm not sure what Congress will do with (the EPA report). I suspect stakeholders will start asking questions around this issue, and I think that's a useful development."

The report recommends an Energy Star whole-building performance rating system for data centers, standardized performance metrics for data centers, and encouraging financial incentives for industry via tax credits and utility rebates. But the most concrete benefit will be at the web server level. "They are fairly explicit that EPA will propose an extension of EnergyStar to servers," said Birch, who said it's too soon to tell whether the agency will be able to extend the EnergyStar efficiency ratings to other data center equipment such as UPS systems.

The matter of developing metrics for an entire data center is a trickier matter. The Green Grid has put forth a measure of Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which defines how much of a data center's total power is used by the IT equipment (as opposed to distribution and conversion).

"The PUE at least highlights how much energy is used on the servers, versus everything else," said Birch. " I think everybody would like to see good metrics, but I would be very surprised if there was a strong industry consensus in the next two to three years on metrics."

One of the challenges for efforts to develop a metric for facility-wide energy efficiency is the variety found among data centers. Comparing scores for different data centers will often turn out to be an apples vs. oranges comparison. But establishing a building-wide metric could be very useful for operators.

"I may not be able to compare mine to yours, but I can see it when my (energy efficiency) is higher or lower than it used to be, and know that I should take a closer look at that," said Birch.

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