Computer Data Centers: A 'New Policy Frontier' For Energy Efficiency

A new report from the Alliance to Save Energy says computer data centers offer an important area for increasing the nation's energy efficiency. The report also notes policies and measures that could help mitigate the energy used by this emerging sector.

Washington, D.C., February 12, 2007 - A new report from the Alliance to Save Energy says computer data centers offer an important area for increasing the nation's energy efficiency. The report also notes policies and measures that could help mitigate the energy used by this emerging sector.


Energy Efficiency in Data Centers: A New Policy Frontier (http://www.ase.org/content/article/detail/3581) says the thousands of high-density data centers nationwide that house some 10 million computer servers typically consume 15 times more energy per square foot - and in some instances up to 100 times more - than a typical office building. The report goes on to say that the economic, environmental, and other social benefits that would flow from reducing data centers' energy use justify governmental policies promoting energy-efficient practices and technology.

"Energy-intensive data centers, which run 24 hours, seven days a week, consume significant amounts of electricity - an estimated 20 to 30 billion kilowatt hours annually, roughly equal to the electricity consumption of the entire state of Utah," said report author and Alliance Vice President of Research and Analysis Joe Loper. "That electricity costs $2 to $3 billion a year and requires about 30 power plants."

The new Alliance report offers a number of suggestions for how governments can raise awareness about data center energy use and encourage energy efficiency, including sub-metering to help isolate energy-efficiency opportunities; supporting efforts to develop server and power supply energy performance metrics; evaluating minimum energy performance standards for server power supplies; ensuring that data center best practices are included in commercial building codes; and establishing tax and/or utility incentives to help defray the cost of more efficient equipment.

"The good news," Loper added, "is that there are myriad opportunities for reducing data center energy use, and that many energy-efficiency measures have quick payback periods. The challenge is to make data center owners and operators aware of those opportunities and comfortable with investing the required time and money in them. We hope this report will further those important goals."

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) provided support for the report. "Energy dependency is a significant growth constraint for the technology industry, particularly for the Internet and networked computing," said Larry Vertal, senior strategist at AMD. "That is why so many technology companies are driving new innovations in the area of energy-efficient computing. With the federal government's help, we can reduce energy consumption in the data center to allow for continued growth of the Internet and access to the applications consumers, businesses, and governments depend on."

For further information:
Ronnie Kweller: 202-530-2203 (office)

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The Alliance to Save Energy is a coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders who promote the efficient and clean use of energy worldwide to benefit consumers, the environment, economy, and national security.

Energy Efficiency in Data Centers:
A New Policy Frontier

Report by Joe Loper and Sara Parr finds many opportunities for increased efficiency in computer server data centers, highlighting the need for voluntary industry standards and policy changes to encourage widespread adoption of energy-saving practices.

The report observes that with an annual electricity bill of $2 to $3 billion. America's 10 million computer servers offer great potential for reducing their power use with energy-efficiency measures. The report also identifies barriers to change within the data center industry and makes suggestions for overcoming these barriers.

Data centers and their energy usage are expected to grow:
• The number of installed servers in the U.S. is expected to increase by 40 to 50 percent nationally in the next four years, with sales of new servers numbering about 7 million per year.
• Data centers in the United States now consume an estimated 20 to 30 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually, roughly equal to the electricity consumption of Utah, or about 30 power plants.

Technical energy-efficiency opportunities that already exist:
• Use of the most current energy-efficient server processors
o Most processors are 35 to 150 percent more efficient than previous generations.
• Management of applications to reduce computational power.
o Software engineered to maximize energy efficiency would decrease unnecessary data center energy use.
• Improved efficiency of power supply and power distribution
o Uninterrupted power supply systems are currently available with efficiencies as high as 95 percent - some current power supplies can have efficiencies as low as 60 percent.
• Right-sizing of cooling requirements
o There is a tendency to overcool data centers.
o Data center operators should be educated about proper air-cooling techniques.
o Chilled water systems require only about 70 percent of the system wattage used by traditional air-cooled systems.
o Cost may be a challenge for small- and mid-sized data centers.

Barriers to improved efficiency and change:
• Lack of real-world efficiency reporting from manufacturers on server components.
• Lack of energy-efficiency enabling requirements in software.
• The high energy costs associated with data center operation often are not addressed, because they represent a relatively small portion of overall data center operating costs.
• Incentives are needed for data center managers to make energy efficiency a priority.

Policy and design recommendations:
• Government should support efforts to develop metrics for servers and work toward establishing more reliable procurement standards.
• Governments should ensure that data center best practices are included in commercial building codes.
• Rebates should be offered to manufacturers of server components that meet efficiency standards such as 80plus®.
• Governments should encourage sub-metering of data center electricity use.

For more information, please contact:
Ronnie Kweller
Deputy Director of Communications
The Alliance to Save Energy
Phone: (202) 530-2203

Evvie Nanni
The Glover Park Group
Phone: (202) 295-0170

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