US govt plugs ways to cut datacentre power needs

Cutting power use moves to centre stage for IT - and government

Nothing in a digital society works without electricity, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the federal government and the private sector are consuming power at an accelerating pace to keep their datacentres running.

To help reduce the demand for electricity, the EPA is recommending that companies and government agencies consider a broad menu of approaches to cutting their power usage, from seeking more efficient software to installing larger servers and virtualisation


The US datacentre industry is “in the midst of a major growth phase”, the EPA said in a 156-page draft report on power usage within datacentres that was posted on the agency’s website for public review late last month. Already, datacentres are consuming up to 1.5% of all the electricity generated in the US, according to the EPA. And the amount of power used by IT facilities is on its way to a 75% increase by 2011, the agency said in the draft report.

The EPA is scheduled to deliver a final version of the report to US Congress in June or July. The study, the result of legislation approved last year by Congress, is intended to get a handle on what can be done nationally to cut datacentre electricity bills and reduce the load on the country’s power grids.

There are a lot of reasons for wanting to cut power use, especially for the federal government. The EPA estimates that the government consumes 10% of the 59 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity used annually to power US datacentres, at an overall cost of US$4.1 billion (NZ$5.6 billion). The total amount of energy consumed by datacentres will increase to 103 billion kWh by 2011, the EPA predicts.

Although the report is still in draft form, it assembles a broad collection of research to make a case for adopting benchmark standards for measuring the energy efficiency of servers as well as entire datacentres.

Indeed, the EPA wants to develop a way to measure the energy efficiency of everything inside the four walls of a datacentre. A datacentre benchmark of that sort “is really at the core of our recommendations,” says Andrew Fanara, a team leader in the EPA’s Energy Star programme.

According to Fanara, the agency intends to measure energy usage at various federal datacentres, taking into account a range of variables such as workload demands and the amount of redundancy a particular datacentre may need. The intent, he says, is to gather enough data from federal datacentres to produce a statistically valid sample, which could then be used to determine an energy-efficiency scale. It may take more than a year to complete the work, Fanara adds.

The EPA said in the draft report that although power consumption will continue to increase, the pace of the increases will slow somewhat, thanks to the growing use of virtualisation software and multicore processors, which handle more work in parallel while using less power than single-core chips do. The EPA also predicts that server vendors will move towards more energy-efficient systems through the use of components such as variable-speed fans that can respond to different cooling needs.

But the EPA said there are lot of other things that IT managers can do to improve energy efficiency, such as designing software to avoid excess code.

“Treat CPU cycles as a finite resource,” the agency advises. It also said technology users should consider accelerated replacements of IT equipment, the adoption of storage virtualisation, and large centralised servers to improve the sharing of computing resources.

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