The Green Grid gets going

The Green Grid can help by pressuring vendors about re-engineering technology that wastes energy

Pleas to improve datacenter power-efficiency tend to be vague: Consolidate to fewer and more efficient systems; use virtualization to allocate resources based on need; and choose microprocessors, infrastructure components, and system architectures that are built with power conservation as a key objective.

A dearth of meaningful metrics once led me to propose counting of the number of cooling fans and reducing their number through attrition, even as capacity is added. Where there are fans, there's heat, and where there's heat, there's energy being wasted. Not very scientific, I realize.

I felt I had to suggest something, though, because the prevailing measure -- performance per watt -- is useless and misleading. The power consumption of a microprocessor die is a good measure of a chipmaker's effort to contribute to green computing, but it isn't the whole picture. For example, a power supply can waste considerable energy just converting AC to DC (something that I think should be done once per rack, but that's another story). As long as power conservation is solely the stuff of chipmaker tit-for-tat, we'll never make appreciable progress.

A non-profit consortium called The Green Grid as been formed to turn green intentions into the hard facts and formulas that underlie IT action plans. The Green Grid is taking a holistic approach that addresses all contributors to power inefficiency. And to help IT buyers identify vendors genuinely committed to saving power, The Green Grid is developing a logo program to label equipment that meets its criteria for minimum necessary power utilization. The consortium has a blue chip roster of charter members including Intel, AMD, Sun, IBM, and VMware, along with support from the EPA and the Alliance to Save Energy.

These heavy hitters aren't getting together to play pinochle. In one of its first publications, entitled "Guidelines for Energy-Efficient Datacenters," The Green Grid lays out plainly what journalists like me have used hundreds of words to say: IT doesn't pay the electric bill, so it doesn't have the tools to determine how much power it's using and how much of that is wasted. The Green Grid proposes to close that gap, so its initial publications point to the need to pull together IT, facilities, electrical contractors, HVAC (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning), and vendors that sell power routing and battery backup equipment.

For example, when's the last time you had your HVAC system evaluated? If you've been cutting holes in ducts, doing creative airflow engineering under a raised floor, or removing ceiling tiles to dump AC into overheated areas, don't congratulate yourself on your ingenuity. Instead, mourn the money you're wasting because the AC fan can't push hot air out of the building through leaky ductwork. Oops.

And that's just for starters. Everyone should learn enough about facilities, cooling, and power management to know what they shouldn't mess with and to know when they've messed up. The Green Grid and similar efforts can help with that -- but they also have a more important role: pressuring vendors. Technology that wastes energy should be re-engineered. And when IT misuses hardware (deploying overpowered UPSes, for example), smart energy-aware devices should dial down power consumption automatically. With big-time backing, The Green Grid looks like it will have the clout to transcend fuzzy sentiments about "going green" and yield measurable, unambiguous results.

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Tom Yager

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