US government and IT industry stage energy efficiency talks

Technology leaders and representatives from the US government have met to debate legislation and other measures to promote energy efficiency.

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Technology leaders and representatives from the US government have met to debate legislation and other measures to promote energy efficiency.

More than 70 energy-related pieces of legislation are currently being considered by the US Congress, while a bill signed by President George Bush late last year called for an in-depth study of datacentre efficiency.

The meeting, held on Friday, is the second in a series of planned discussions.

One of the first initiatives expected to come out of the talks is a policy to conduct energy savings assessments (ESAs) at the country's largest datacentres. A similar effort at 200 of the largest heavy industrial businesses in the US identified opportunities to save enough natural gas to provide power for 700,000 homes for a year. The US government is planning another 250 ESAs this year.

Measures debated at the energy efficiency talks included incentives to boost power saving, increased server consolidation and virtualisation. Another recurring theme from technology industry executives was the need for a dramatic shift in the historic separation between facilities and IT personnel.

Paul Perez, vice-president of scalable datacentre infrastructure at HP, said an ongoing effort at the company to consolidate 85 datacentres into six has had to include "an integration of the two domains of IT and facilities". Traditionally, he said, "there has been an inconsistency of approach, no common vision and sometimes a lack of trust".

Methods of documenting total operational and disposal costs were also needed to drive the decision making process, he said.

A short-term goal of the US government and industry initiative is to adopt specifications that will lead to an "Energy Star" designation for power-efficient servers. Qualifying systems could then be easily identified and incentives could be offered to purchasers to buy them.

Some US utility firms have already begun to use or consider incentives, such as discounts for companies that install high-efficiency servers.

Lorie Wigle, marketing director of server software, technologies and initiatives at chip maker Intel, said attitudes about energy efficiency at technology organisations were only just beginning to change.

"For many, the energy cost is still a shrug," Wigle said. "I don't necessarily see any firestorm of concern. We have to show people from an operational level why they should care about the energy side."

The government and industry talks also aim to establish a methodology for measuring datacentre efficiency as a product of its computational value, said William Tschudi, a project manager at scientific research organisation Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"It would be great to have a 'miles to the gallon' comparison," Tschudi said. "Getting to those kinds of understandings is why we are here and five years ago we couldn't have even convened a group to consider these issues."

One participant at the talks suggested a baseline energy consumption measure, with businesses taxed if they exceeded it - a move that could encourage efficient infrastructure designs. But the suggestion was not endorsed by the US government officials at the meeting.

The next energy efficiency roundtable talks will be held in Washington later this year.

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