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Energy consortium takes aim at bottom line

The Green Grid, AMD's new consortium on energy-efficient computing, is intended to help CIOs get power consumption and cooling under control in the data center.

It could be your worst nightmare: Explaining to your CEO why you can't get your skyrocketing energy costs under control.

Industry giants Advanced Micro Devices Inc. and IBM (among others) say they feel your pain and have formed a consortium designed to put the best and brightest minds to work on a solution.

AMD, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based chip maker, announced recently that it would back The Green Grid, a new nonprofit consortium aimed at creating a community where vendors, IT professionals and just about anyone else can discuss challenges, best practices and innovations in data center design, power management and cooling.

At first glance, it's a marketing gimmick. But AMD and the other major industry players, such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc., contend that this problem of out-of-control energy consumption is affecting not just your bottom line, but theirs, too. And the objective in forming this group is to solve the problem.

"This is not a vendor hype issue," said Michael Bell, research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "And CIOs have a huge vested interest to see more energy-efficient products, services and design solutions to make enterprise computing more energy efficient and environmentally friendly."

CIOs shouldn't be dissuaded by the environmentalist flavor of the "green" consortium. This isn't just about saving the environment by cutting energy consumption.

"While the environmental and energy conservation aspects represent positive goals, the real issue is reducing the first-cost and lifecycle costs of the data center," Bell said.

Robert Savette, acting general manager of the commercial division of Spraycool, a Liberty Lake, Wash.-based maker of fluid-based heat management solutions, said server and chip makers have recognized that the growing energy and heat management crisis is harming their business.

Vendors have responded to demands for more computing power by making faster processors in the form of high-density servers that can fit in smaller spaces. Excited by the prospect early on, it wasn't long before businesses discovered that their data centers were not equipped to handle the flow of additional heat.

The quick solution is to put up an air conditioner or fans, which, while a temporary fix, adds significantly to the cost of energy. Couple that with rising energy costs, and powering and cooling the data center has become a very expensive proposition.

"Every piece of equipment that goes into a data center is pulling power, and the byproduct of this produces heat," said Bruce Shaw, director of worldwide commercial marketing at AMD. "It's physics 101. It's not just a processor thing, which is why AMD has been very adamant that we need everyone's help."

"IT departments have been screaming for years about increasing power budgets, because it affects operational costs," said Jim McGregor, an analyst at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based consultancy In-Stat. "But it was not until two years ago that the industry finally started taking notice. Intel and AMD started running up against physics brick walls."

"These guys have access to amazing technology, amazing high-density computing, blade servers, but their market to sell those technologies is constrained by cooling concerns," Spraycool's Savette said. "They're interested in getting some standards and metrics on how the problem is described and finding new technologies."

Many CIOs are feeling the pain. As business units in their companies demand more computing power, the challenge of powering and cooling the data center is getting out of hand. "Cooling of the data center has been a growing concern for a few years now, and it continues to grow," said Bob Doherty, manager, Computer Operations at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "We see electric costs more than $.10 higher per K/hr than one year ago."

"Data centers are reaching capacity," Savette said. "They are either running out of power or running out of cooling capacity or running out of space. The business unit says, 'I need more IT power.' IT goes to the facilities guys and says, 'I need to put in more servers.' And the facilities guys say, 'We're full. We need to build a new data center.'"

People know there is a problem. They just don't know what to do.

Bruce Shaw, director of worldwide commercial marketing, AMD

Then the CIO has to tell the company's management that the laws of physics require a new capital investment because the faster a computer is, the hotter it runs.

"CIOs in their long-term planning have to go before the executive leadership of a company, where they are proposing multimillion-dollar makeovers of IT in two- to four-year planning cycles," AMD's Shaw said. "It's hard to sell that they've outgrown their footprint from a power and cooling standpoint."

McGregor said CIOs should at least go to The Green Grid and make their opinions known. The Green Grid "is an opportunity," he said. "I don't think AMD wants to necessarily own it. They just want to give it a push. It's an opportunity for [CIOs] to take ownership of it and to push it."

"The dialogue must be started somewhere," Shaw said. "The first step is to get people to talk about this. People know there is a problem. They just don't know what to do. "

Savette said people don't even know how to talk about the problem since there are so many elements that contribute to heat and energy management challenges. He said the consortium will foster a set of standards for dealing with the issue

"More importantly, you're going to get a set of metrics. People are going to know how to talk about the problem," Savette said. "That's the difficulty people have right now is what exactly is the problem? Is it a power problem or is it a cooling problem? Is it the manufacturers? Is it the way I'm buying things? Is it the way I'm cooling things?"

Doherty suggests the largest conservation and savings will be realized only from engaging the manufacturer. "This may not happen until they see a cost benefit, a business benefit or possibly a political benefit," he said.

Savette said the development of metrics with The Green Grid will be a boon to CIOs. It will help them evaluate the cost and benefits of making changes to the powering and cooling of the data center.

"This has to be a collective effort," Gartner's Bell said. "The chip and the server makers can't get this done alone. It will require collaboration and innovation across the value chain. User organizations have huge clout."

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