Building Operating Management

Facility Managers Can Use Energy Star Program to Drive Data Center Efficiency

Facility managers who are focusing their attention on energy efficiency in the data center can now rely on additional tools from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program.

Energy Star, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, turned its attention to data centers in 2007, when it began collecting information on energy consumption in locations of various types and sizes. EPA realized there was a huge opportunity to reduce consumption after a 2007 report to Congress noted that data centers were using 2 percent of all electricity in the United States. Since then, EPA has undertaken a broad based effort, one that has addressed IT-side issues as well as the efficiency of the facility.

"What's new in the Energy Star program, from the building side, are two pieces that touch on data centers," says Mike Zatz, chief, market sectors group, for the Energy Star Commercial and Industrial branch at EPA. "One is the data center program within Energy Star working with owners and operators to reduce energy across the data center. The other is in reducing energy use in IT equipment and reducing energy use of infrastructure — in areas like lighting and cooling."

Rating Data Centers

The launch of an Energy Star rating for data centers was one key element of the Energy Star effort.

The data center goes through the same process as any other building, which is to use Portfolio Manager to benchmark energy use. A facility is required to log 12 consecutive months of energy use to obtain a score from 1 to 100 for energy efficiency. That score is based on how well a data center performs in relation to comparable data centers. A score of 50 means that half of comparable data centers are more energy efficient and half are less efficient. Just like other Energy Star ratings for buildings, a score of 75 or higher is required for Energy Star certification. But the data center uses a different metric, which is energy use intensity.

"For everyone else, energy use per square foot is measured," says Zatz. "For data centers, the metric is based on power usage effectiveness for the building and its size." The power usage effectiveness metric uses a ratio of IT energy to total energy use to create a picture of what the non-IT equipment is using. The best benefit for energy efficiency in the data center will come with reducing cooling loads, Zatz says.

While current data on benchmarked buildings are not available, data from 18 months ago show that 600 stand-alone data centers were being benchmarked, while more than 15,000 mixed-use buildings, including data center facilities, were using Portfolio Manager.

"We are up to 22 Energy Star certified data centers," Zatz says. Data centers are continuing to be constructed, and old ones are expanding, which makes it essential for facility managers to help IT managers understand the importance of reducing energy use.

Zatz says that high-level corporate managers and data center owners are increasingly interested in conserving energy. "We will continue to see interest grow as data centers are built and people see the value of reducing use without compromising the integrity of the data center."

Concerns about the impact of efficiency measures on data center effectiveness can be an obstacle to efforts to reduce energy consumption. "The main obstacle or challenge to [energy conservation] is that data center managers and owners are focused like a laser on the services they provide," Zatz says. Data integrity and uptime are paramount, and they cannot allow anything to compromise their primary mission. "There's a feeling that looking at energy efficiency could lead to compromising the effectiveness of the data center," he says. While this perception is incorrect, some people are very conservative when it comes to changes in the way they operate the data center.

Continue Reading: Close-Up: Data Centers

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  posted on 6/6/2012   Article Use Policy

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