Energy Star for Servers Coming May 1

The U.S. government's new Energy Star rating system for servers is scheduled to become effective May 1, providing companies with an easier way to compare the energy efficiency of servers from major vendors.

Rich Miller

March 5, 2009

3 Min Read
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The U.S. government's new Energy Star rating system for servers is scheduled to become effective May 1, providing companies with an "apples to apples" method for comparing the energy efficiency of servers from major vendors.

The Energy Star server initiative has been in the works for several years, and was originally planned to take effect on Jan. 1. There have been several delays, according to Andrew Fanara of the Environmental Protection Agency, who said the agency has taken extra time to ensure that savings are "real and identifiable."

"We don't want it to be greenwashing," Fanara said yesterday at the DataCenterDynamics New York conference. "But sometimes it takes a while to define what (real savings) means. This is a starting point for learning about the true energy consumption of these products."

Energy Star was introduced by EPA in 1992 as a voluntary program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. The Energy Star label can be found on more than 50 different kinds of products, new homes and commercial and industrial buildings.

Fanara said the IT industry has historically focused on server performance at the expense of energy efficiency, and says the Energy Star standard is a step towards changing that trend. "We clearly want to foster competition between OEMs," said Fanara. "We won't make anyone participate in Energy Star, but we want vendors to see the benefits."

The Energy Star for Enterprise Servers spec will cover servers with one to four processors, and set efficiency goals for servers at full load and also when idle. The standard will emphasize efficient power supplies and power management tools. To achieve an Energy Star rating, a server must be able to measure and report power usage, temperature and processor utilization - and those features must be turned on when a server ships.

Fanara said that power management features of servers are massively underused. "Many people don't want to use power management because they're afraid of it and risk-averse," he said.

Draft 4 (PDF) of the Energy Star spec was released Feb. 20. Comments on the latest draft are due March 20, after which there will be a stakeholders meeting and conference call, with the final spec scheduled to follow on May 1. The EPA has released a document summarizing the changes between Draft 3 and Draft 4.

Blade servers are not covered in the current draft specifications, as the EPA is seeking industry input about the best way to develop a fair comparison between blades and rackmount servers. "There are some challenges with blades we still have to deal with," said Fanara, who said blades are not likely to be included in the initial spec but could be added at a later time.

One change in the latest draft is that the familiar Energy Star label will not actually be placed on servers, but will appear on vendor web sites with a link to detailed energy information on each server. Some commenters, including The Green Grid, argued that placing a label on the server could impact thermal performance or mechanical fit of servers in racks.

The initial Tier 1 spec will be followed by a more comprehensive Tier 2 standard that will combine computing performance and energy efficiency. The current target for Tier 2 implementation is Oct. 1, 2010.


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