rising energy prices power up companies' concerns about computing cost and environmental issues, vendors are actively releasing new hardware and software technologies designed to help throttle back energy use and promote an overall greener computing infrastructure.
At the desktop and workstation level, new power management capabilities — around the CPU, graphics processors, monitors, batteries and power supplies — are aiding in more efficient energy use. In addition, hardware makers are actively pursuing new product designs that take lead and other dangerous materials out of PCs and workstations, resulting in more environmentally friendly computing gear. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ENERGY STAR® rating for desktops, laptops, servers and workstations can serve as a guide to organizations on the lookout for more energy-efficient products as can the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), a system to help technology purchasers evaluate and compare products based on their environmental attributes. Standard Performance Evaluation Corp. (SPEC), a non-profit charged with developing a standard set of benchmarks to evaluate hardware purchases, is also collaborating with the EPA on a new set of benchmarks designed specifically to measure and compare the power consumption of professional workstations when running engineering applications like CAD and simulation tools.
Beyond the individual desktop, green concerns and energy efficiency are two of the hottest issues surrounding the data center. Virtualization, the process by which companies consolidate work onto fewer, more specialized computers, is taking hold as a way to simplify computing infrastructures and increase utilization, but also to take a bite out of mounting energy and maintenance bills. Other efforts, including server- and network-based power management platforms and new cooling technologies to reduce server heat output are also well underway, helping companies wrest back control of skyrocketing energy costs with an eye toward creating greener computing infrastructures.
It's no wonder energy efficiency has surfaced as one of the top criteria considered when purchasing new systems. According to an EPA report issued in 2007, energy costs for data centers are doubling every five years, and if left unchecked, could cost the private sector $7.4 billion in annual electricity costs by 2011. In 2006 alone, energy to power data centers accounted for 1.5 percent of total U.S. energy consumption — more than the electricity consumed by the nation's color television sets.
“Energy has become the single greatest factor when looking at TCO (total cost of ownership) today, whereas five years ago, no one looked it at all,” says Dan Abell, practice leader of asset management at Kodiak Finance, a firm offering environmental and green IT consulting services.
Power Management Advances
At Dell, which has been very vocal about its green initiatives, the “greening” of its product line has become serious business. The company has a portfolio of Energy Smart technologies, which it leverages in products from workstations to storage devices, and it has been out in front in meeting new energy certifications, including landing an 80 PLUS Gold rating on a new server power supply. The 80 PLUS initiative is an electric utility-funded incentive program to get more energy-efficient power supplies into computers and servers, and Dell's 80 PLUS Gold rating is a year ahead of schedule.
“We really believe organizations can't afford not to be green,” says Albert Esser, vice president of Power and Infrastructure Solutions at Dell. “Anything companies can do to go green will save money and help them be better operators of IT.”
In addition to the energy efficiencies achieved in Dell's power supplies and servers, the company conducts thermal analysis of its desktop and server offerings to optimize air flow and achieve more efficient cooling. Fan technology is another ace in Dell's Energy Smart technology portfolio. “If you need twice as much air going through a server, you need eight times the power to move that air with a fan,” he says. “It's very important to have a low-flow fan technology and low-flow thermal design in the box. It saves a tremendous amount of power.”
There are multiple power management efforts in the works to make equipment like monitors, laptops and servers draw little to no electricity when they're not in use. NVIDIA has built intelligence into its GPUs to have different power states depending on how the product is used, according to Jeff Brown, general manager of NVIDIA's Professional Solutions Group. Instead of simple on/off configuration, there are multiple power states so power can be efficiently racheted up or throttled back.
While NVIDIA, Dell, Intel Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM and others are also building power management functionality into their equipment to minimize energy consumption when machines are in use, newcomer Verdiem is focused on enterprise software to help companies manage power consumption of their Windows-based PCs and workstation infrastructure when the systems aren't active. The Surveyor network management system intelligently places PCs and monitors into lower power settings when not in use based on a variety of parameters, including time of day, type of machine and even groupings of workers.
“Most of the electricity that gets wasted in the enterprise is when systems are not being used — someone is in a meeting or they've gone home for the night — that's what we do,” says Kevin Klustner, Verdiem's president and CEO. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, a typical PC consumes 588 kW-hr of electricity per year, with two-thirds of that power wasted when the computer isn't in use. In addition, Klustner says 60 percent of PCs are left running after hours in businesses with 80 percent of users disabling the PC's power settings after 60 days.
As part of its $1 billion Project Green effort, IBM is working on a variety of power management and energy reduction technologies, all of which can be explored in its Virtual Green Data Center in Second Life. The key headliners in IBM's green story are virtualization, scalable, pre-configured, modular data centers and new liquid cooling solutions. For instance, its X86-powered offerings feature the Rear Door Heat eXchanger cooling system to reduce server heat. In addition, there are extensions to the Tivoli management software for setting power policies, tracking energy usage and accurately charging back departments' power consumption in a data center along with its BladeCenter HC10, a workstation offering that provides the high security and manageability benefits of virtualization in the data center with the high-end graphics' performance required for CAD applications, says Rich Lechner, vice president of strategy for IBM's Systems & Technology Group.
While engineering groups, in particular, are more likely to resist virtualization efforts because they want to retain the horsepower of their dedicated machines, showing proof points associated with energy savings can be a big motivator for getting them to take the plunge. “There's a certain amount of organizational resistance to things like virtualization and shared environments, but if you can show it's a green play, they will do it,” Lechner says. “Green turns out to be a strong motivator for individual behavior.”