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EPA Maps Careful Course on Energy Leadership

The EPA is charting a careful course in encouraging energy efficiency in data centers.

Just about everyone likes the idea of making data centers more energy efficient. But establishing leadership on the issue in a competitive industry is a much larger challenge. That's where Andrew Fanara comes in.

"When the federal government calls, people return our calls, and that's helpful," said Fanara, who works with the Energy Star program run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and has been working with the data center industry on energy efficiency.

Fanara was the keynote speaker today at AFCOM's fall Data Center World conference in Dallas, which drew more than 800 attendees to make it the group's largest fall event yet. In August the EPA issued its final report on Enterprise Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency, which was requested last year by Congress. While some look towards Washington for leadership on data center energy consumption, plenty of others in the industry are wary of regulation. Fanara says the government has carefully calibrated its approach, looking for the areas where it can be most effective.

"We're very sensitive about treading lightly," said Fanara. "This is a dynamic industry, and we don't want to be heavy handed. Regulations are not something we're considering ... it's not the right model. We want to nudge the sector in the right direction.

"We think there are very specific areas where we can have an impact," said Fanara. "One of them is servers, so servers are our first target." The EPA is moving ahead on establishing Energy Star efficiency ratings for servers, and Fanara says the industry response has been positive.

"I think everyone's going to be on board," he said of the server vendors. "All of the folks who are the market leaders have come forward, and so have some second-tier vendors." But the scrutiny on efficiency may not be comfortable for all of them, he acknowledged. "What Energy Star does is identify best of breed," said Fanara. "Some manufacturers don't like it if they're not best of breed."

The Energy Star server ratings will likely be implemented in two phases, with a "Tier 1" focusing on highly-efficient power supplies and probably based on the SPEC (Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation) bechmark. A second phase, to follow later, would look to implement a broader server energy performance metric.

Fanara said the EPA continues to work on a standard to track the energy efficiency of data center facilities. "Between now and the end of the year we'd like to pick a benchmark," he said. "There are different opinions out there about which is the best benchmark." Fanara said one metric being considered is Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE), which has been advanced by The Green Grid.

While the EPA is picking its spots, Fanara said, it views data center energy efficiency as critical to the success of broader U.S. energy conservation initiatives.

"As much as I love our Energy Star light bulbs, in the big picture it may be the data center that is the number one opportunity for reducing energy consumption," said Fanara. "You can only change so many light bulbs. But data centers can give you savings in one fell swoop."