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Wayne Balta, Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, IBM

Wayne Balta, Vice President, Environmental Affairs and Product Safety, IBM

By Wayne Balta

Creating a smarter planet means taking steps toward a more sustainable planet.

The EPA’s ENERGY STAR® program has been working toward this vision for years. These days, most people recognize the ENERGY STAR seal as a trusted sign of energy efficiency from seeing it on everything from light bulbs to refrigerators. But IBM’s involvement with ENERGY STAR goes all the way back to 1992 when we became a charter member of the ENERGY STAR Computer Program. Back then it was focused on personal computers. Today, however, in an era of the global internet, Big Data and analytics, ENERGY STAR is also addressing computer servers and data centers.

On one hand, information technologies enable many of our world’s systems to be far more energy efficient. A 2008 study by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy found that “for every extra kilowatt-hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT technologies, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of about 10.”

On the other hand, the world’s computing infrastructure is growing. It has been estimated that data centers presently consume about 2 percent of worldwide energy. That may seem like a relatively small percentage, but continued growth is a certainty and opportunities abound to make present computing infrastructures and future growth far more energy efficient. For example, far too many data centers are managed with an uninformed “add a server” approach. Change will make good environmental sense and good business sense.

That’s where ENERGY STAR can play a constructive role. IBM has been an active leader throughout the the EPA’s recent process to extend the ENERGY STAR program to computer servers. ENERGY STAR’s new Version 2.0 rating recognizes servers that can handle increased computing workloads without using power wastefully. IBM has, incidentally, qualified a broad range of eligible Power Systems and System x servers to the new standard – eleven server product families in all.

One IBM client, Indigo, Canada’s largest book and specialty retailer, has used Power Systems to keep its power consumption at the exact the same levels as they were seven years ago – translating into an overall net cost reduction of 35 percent over the last five years. Since the company has upgraded to one of IBM’s latest ENERGY STAR-qualified Power Systems servers, it expects to see even more energy savings.

The qualifying criteria for the new ENERGY STAR rating includes features like efficient power supplies, real-time power usage measurement, and advanced power management for lowering power usage during low workload and idle periods – something enterprises have especially struggled to balance, despite servers becoming more and more power efficient.

In fact, data centers often use a relatively small portion of their electricity consumption powering servers to perform computations; more electricity has been used to keep servers idling. The new ENERGY STAR 2.0 specifications attempt to reduce this waste with stringent idle power limits and a requirement to ship qualified servers with their power management features enabled. These updated criteria can help organizations dramatically lower the amount of energy required to run data centers, while handling more work more efficiently.

With these new criteria, the EPA projects that ENERGY STAR 2.0 designated computer servers will be, on average, 30 percent more
energy efficient than other servers. What’s more, if all servers sold in the U.S. were to meet the new specifications, energy cost savings could approach $800 million per year and prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from over one million vehicles. That can really make a difference – one data center at a time.

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