EPA move may allow server energy use comparison

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and hardware vendors are developing a standardized protocol that could help server buyers make vendor-to-vendor comparisons of a server's energy use vis-a-vis its performance, something users may have trouble doing now.

By next week, the EPA will begin distributing to vendors and some users a final draft of the protocol, which outlines a way to measure how much power is used by a server tested against transaction-based benchmarks, such as the number of Web pages served per hour, according to several people involved in the effort.

"If you are a server buyer and you want to compare the energy performance of the servers from different vendors, you have a hard time doing that. The reason is that each manufacturer gives data in their own way, and the data given is not consistent between the vendors," said Jonathan Koomey, who heads the group developing the protocol and has advised the EPA on other energy issues. He is also a consulting professor at Stanford University and a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

The inability to compare how much energy servers use "is a problem for the customers of these manufacturers," said Koomey. Vendors recognize customer concerns "but until now they haven't known what to do about it."

Koomey believes some vendors may move quickly to use the server protocol, but large-scale adoption will take time -- and customer insistence. "It's going to take some pressure by the customers; if the customers really demand it, the manufactures will change really fast. "

One large customer that is already asking for energy data from vendors is Lehman Brothers. "I believe that standardized benchmarking will actually create a more competitive environment amongst vendors, thereby spurring on additional innovations for power efficiencies -- not only at power supply levels but CPU, storage and memory levels as well," said Salmon. "Even a small energy savings of 25 [to] 50 watts per server can translate into significant reductions in yearly operating expenses in addition to providing the ability to extend the life of existing data centers and their infrastructures."