More Red Tape for Green Computing

An excessive power consumption curve from runaway data centers may lead to government-mandated green computing standards.

A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report predicting data center power bills will grow exponentially over the next four years should come as no surprise, given the necessity of new data storage "server farms" and a corresponding lack of guidelines and standards for enterprise energy use.

The Report on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency predicts that even with existing efficiency trends factored in, the U.S. data center power bill will mushroom from $4.5 billion in 2006 to an estimated $7.4 billion in 2011. The report also states that U.S. data centers consume enough electricity to power 5% of homes in the United States, and that this figure is growing larger by the year.

However, so long as the companies can keep paying for the increase with next quarter's budget, there is no impetus for change no matter the consequences, says Aaron Hay, research consultant at Info-Tech Research Group.

"There should be a sense of urgency around this issue that is not evident today," says Hay. "That's because without standards or metrics for what energy consumption overall in data centers should be, IT managers have no bottom-line numbers to convince management of the cost and performance improvements that can be achieved."

Hay says Fortune 500 enterprises can help by putting pressure on vendors to make rigorous product improvements to reduce power drain, and by encouraging vendors to work together to establish industry benchmarks.

Virtualization (in which server resources are maximized through consolidation of more than one "virtual machine" on each server) can help, but Hay says government leadership is needed to motivate the industry to measure whole data center power consumption. "Until we have a standard measure of data center power consumption, it is doubtful that we will see changes on a widespread level," Hay predicts.

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