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Should the Feds Define Efficiency Metrics?

Can the data center industry develop and adopt energy efficiency metrics? Or is the government the likely arbiter on green metrics?

An IT research firm is calling on the governments of the U.S. and Canada to take a leadership role to stem power usage by data center operators in North America. Info-Tech Research Group cited findings from the recent EPA report on data center power usage trends, and said current momentum on "green data centers" is inadequate.

"Greening of the large enterprise data center is just a pipe dream at the moment because there's no motivation or support for IT departments to change," said Aaron Hay, research consultant at Info-Tech Research Group. "Until we have a standard measure of data center power consumption, it is doubtful that we will see changes on a widespread level. The U.S. and Canadian governments need to work with data center operators, vendors, and industry associations to facilitate setting practical and actionable targets for immediate reductions in data center power consumption."

There appears to be agreement in the industry that metrics on power usage are key ingredients in any broad improvement in data center efficiency. But who will set those standards? Industry groups like the Green Grid and the Uptime Institute are working on metrics, as is the EPA's EnergyStar program. But there's no consensus on what will be measured and rated (servers? UPS systems? entire buildings?) and how best to do it.

Info-Tech, a Canadian firm with 21,000 paid research customers, is one of many voices that will be heard from on this issue. In its press release, Info-Tech says the issue requires additional attention. "There should be a sense of urgency around this issue that is not evident today," said Hay. "That's because without standards or metrics for what energy consumption overall in data centers should be, IT managers have no bottom line numbers to convince management of the cost and performance improvements that can be achieved."

I believe energy efficiency is a business imperative for most data center operators. As power usage and costs increase, the cost benefits of energy-efficient data centers become more obvious. The notion of government-imposed standards and metrics should be considered very carefully. Corporate America is pretty consistent in preferring industry-level best practices to drive change, rather than government mandates.

But can the data center industry develop and adopt metrics that will do the trick? That's the mega-million dollar question, and just one of many. Can major players put aside their agendas and differences to build consensus? If not, what are the implications of leaving the government in charge of deciding and imposing a metric? If a federal standard on data center energy metrics becomes likely, what impact might that have on data center development projects?

The next couple of months are shaping up as a critical period in answering those questions, and defining the next set of hurdles to clear.