The US government is one of the world’s biggest data center users, its departments and agencies using IT housed in about 2,000 government-owned data centers. The government has been struggling to fix the inefficiency of this infrastructure for a long time.
One of the biggest efforts of recent years has been the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative, kicked off in 2010 by Vivek Kundra, who was then the federal CIO. FDCCI has gone through many stages of refinement, and agencies it applies to have achieved varying degrees of success.
While FDCCI and related application-centered infrastructure optimization efforts address redundancy, they don’t directly address energy efficiency of existing government data centers. Legislation currently on the docket for both the Senate and the House of Representatives seeks to write federal data center energy efficiency improvements into law.
Representative Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), whose district encompasses much of the Silicon Valley, has been pursuing a law that would require government data center operators to improve energy efficiency for more than two years.
The bill she reintroduced this year, called the Energy Efficient Government Technology Act was first introduced in early 2013 and passed by the House as part of a broader Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2014 about one year later. It failed to pass the Senate, however.
In March, Eshoo reintroduced the act (H.R. 1268) together with Representative Adam Kissinger (R-Ill.) and with official support from two more Democrats and one Republican. A companion bill that carries the same name was introduced in the Senate last month (S. 1706).
An Eshoo spokesman did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
Better Efficiency, More Data
If enacted, the bill would require agencies to come up with plans to buy and use more energy efficient technologies and report on efficiency improvements in their data centers regularly. It would put the Office of Management and Budget in charge of tracking their progress.
It would also mandate creation of an “open data initiative” to collect and make public federal data center energy usage data.
Another part of the bill would require an update on the 2007 report by the Environmental Protection Agency on server and data center energy efficiency that encompassed all data centers, not just the federal government’s. The original report estimated that data centers consumed about 1.5 percent of all energy consumed in the US. This and other findings from the report have been widely cited by companies and government organizations ever since, but today the figures are severely outdated.
Efficiency Seen as “Nice-To-Have”
While data center operators in the private sector have every incentive to increase energy efficiency because it directly impacts their companies’ bottom line, the dynamics are different in government. Duane Davenport, who recently joined Upsite Technologies to develop the company’s federal data center business, said that from his observations, data center energy efficiency is “a nice-to-have … rather than a requirement” for government agencies.
A mandate to improve efficiency has the potential to move the needle, in his opinion. “In the federal space, very little happens unless there is an edict or a mandate,” he said.
Davenport has been selling into the federal space for more than 25 years, most recently as an account executive at Hitachi Data Systems. He has done deals with a wide range of civilian and defense agencies and departments on behalf of Hitachi as well as Gateway, Commercial Data Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Digital Equipment Corporation.
Vendors like Upsite, which sells data center airflow optimization products, obviously stand to benefit from the bill’s passage. Many companies that sell data center efficiency products and services are headquartered in Eshoo’s district in California.
Little Incentive to Improve
One of the reasons federal agencies are so slow to improve energy efficiency of their data centers may be that many of them don’t feel any impact from the power consumption of the mission-critical facilities they host their applications in.
“The actual departments or agencies themselves don’t know exactly what their energy efficiency is, because, oftentimes, the building that they’re in is operated by GSA, or operated by other departments or agencies, so they don’t even see their power bill,” John Lind, VP of sales into the public sector at QTS, a data center provider, said. Government data centers “are usually outdated” but unlike the private sector there has been little incentive to update them, he said.