Data center power consumption has caught the attention of Washington. Now the EPA intends to do for servers what it has already done for PCs and other electrical appliances. With its newest research study, the agency makes clear that it will apply the considerable weight of its successful Energy Star stamp to drive improvement in server energy efficiency.

A just-released EPA report, titledReport to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiencycites that, at 1.5% of national electric power consumption, data centers are now second only to heavy manufacturing as the largest industrial user of electric power from the grid. By extension, that suggests data centers are responsible for a significant carbon emissions footprint resulting from coal-fired electricity generating turbine plants.

An independent data center industry organization consisting of 100 large global users, the Uptime Institute (Institute) hails the report as an important first and necessary step in a national movement toward the development of green data center design and specifications. The institute’s whole-system recommendations, including the four performance factors of a green data center, are made in a formal Opinion of the Institute, also published earlier this month. The Opinion of the Institute identifies IT as controlling three of the four green performance factors with data center energy savings of 50% to 60% possible and representing 10-year financial savings in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Opinion of the Institute supports and significantly extends the findings in the EPA report.

 “The EPA’s report is extensive and thorough,” said Ken Brill, founder and executive director of the institute. “We think its findings are strong and that it can and should be used as a corporate roadmap for developing both short- and long-term energy efficiency improvements in data centers.” The institute contributed to the study and commented on pre-publication drafts.

Simultaneously, the institute has published its latest white paper, The Invisible Crisis in the Data Center: The Economic Meltdown of Moore’s Law - the primary output of the institute’s spring symposium where nearly 400 industry stakeholders examined rising data center site infrastructure (power and cooling) costs resulting from increasing IT performance.

The paper analyzes how facilities’ costs have grown from the historic one to 3% of IT’s total budget to now become five to 15% and outlines necessary changes to restore the economic productivity of IT. Overall, the institute recommends the industry re-direct its R&D efforts to increase energy efficiency at a faster rate than computational performance, so there is a net reduction in IT energy consumption.

“The EPA report should be taken as a call to all stakeholders to the data center industry to now seriously take on the greening of the data center,” said Brill. “This issue has both economic productivity considerations and environmental consequences that can no longer be ignored.”

Brill said that the still largely unseen economic problems (hidden from view by historical organizational barriers and perverse incentives) will only grow as the rate of increase in computer performance continues to outpace the rate of improvement in the energy efficiency of computers.

“Environmental sustainability and profitability go hand-in-hand.” he said. “The savings are so large that companies that fail to take action will be at an increasing economic disadvantage. Regulation may not be needed, if the profit motivation of increased drives the right behavior. Once senior executives fully understand how the inefficient use of energy is undermining IT’s productivity, we trust that they will have the right response.”