Green Grid tackles how to measure power usage

The Green Grid opens for business, with a charter, a high-powered board and an invitation to others to get behind the cause.

The Green Grid, an industry consortium formed in April to address concerns about power consumption in data centers, said yesterday that it is now an operating not-for-profit, with a technical charter, membership structure and an 11-member board of directors. The formal structure allows the organization to take on the first challenge in making data centers more energy efficient: developing a meaningful way to measure power consumption.

Getting these companies to set their differences aside and start to agree on a common set of language metrics … is an achievement, in and of itself.
Bruce Shaw
director of worldwide commercial marketingAdvanced Micro Devices Inc.
"The problem is real, and people are realizing that. If we continue along the path of energy consumption we run into some real limitations on this industry that we're all passionately involved in," said board member Bruce Shaw, director of worldwide commercial marketing at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD).

"Last year there was a call to action by a few members of the industry to step forward and to address the basic fact that there really wasn't a good common language to even talk about the problem of energy consumption," Shaw said. With yesterday's announcement, "we are open for business."

When the formation of the consortium was announced, critics lashed out, saying it was nothing more than a marketing gimmick. But consortium advocates contend out-of-control energy consumption affects not just a business's bottom line, but vendors, too.

But getting to this point was no mean feat, Shaw added. "We brought together 11 companies that are partners and in some cases all-out competitors. Getting these companies to set their differences aside and start to agree on a common set of language metrics that we can live with as an industry and that are vendor agnostic is an achievement, in and of itself."

In addition to AMD, the board comprises American Power Conversion Corp., Dell Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Intel Corp., Microsoft, Rackable Systems Inc., SprayCool, Sun Microsystems Inc. and VMware Inc.

The companies had to sort out technical and legal issues, which include how to deal with the sharing and dissemination of intellectual property and, down the line, who profits. "Should this organization come together and agree to a certain solution to this complex equation, who then owns it? We all had to get legal involvement and make sure this was structured in a way that was fair and equitable, and not discriminatory to anyone," Shaw said.

The industry has little choice but to deal with energy consumption, experts have pointed out. The energy consumed by data center servers and related equipment here and abroad doubled between 2000 and 2005, according to a new study by Stanford University consulting professor Jonathan Koomey that was commissioned by AMD.

More on energy efficiency
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CIOs, experts bristle at prospect of EPA mandates
And much to the dismay of CIOs and vendors alike, the federal government is putting its two cents in. The U.S. House of Representatives recently tapped the Environmental Protection Agency to study energy consumption and promote efficiency in data centers. Insiders speculate it's only a matter of time before energy usage mandates will be instated.

But cracking the code for energy efficiency is hard. The data center does not have the equivalent of EPA ratings for automobiles, which allow people to compare fuel efficiency, said board member Larry Lamers of VMWare. While it is relatively easy to look at pieces and parts of energy consumption in the data center, such as CPUs, power supplies, server utilization, etc., it is a challenge to take the measure of the whole, he said. All the components must be factored in, from the construction of the building and distribution of power to the humidity, to develop a meaningful metric.

"We use the analogy of the car. If you optimize one part of it, it may be the detriment of other parts and in the end not realize energy efficiency," Lamers said. "We need to build and compile the knowledge on how to measure this, so people know they are making improvements."

Yesterday's announcement is a "second call to action," Shaw said, to invite other companies, customers and utilities to get behind the cause.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer

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