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EPA begins long process to green storage specification

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) wants to develop green storage standards so organizations can measure the energy efficiency of their data storage devices.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking to develop standards for making data storage devices more energy efficient, although it's probably years away from having an industry-standard green storage specification.

The EPA issued an industry letter indicating that it's taking formal steps to develop an Energy Star specification for enterprise data storage devices. Meeting the voluntary Energy Star spec would allow data storage equipment manufacturers to use the familiar Energy Star marketing label to promote product energy efficiencies. The EPA already has a similar Energy Star program for computer servers, and the server specification is expected this week.

There's a lot of talk about green storage from vendors, but customers have no formal way of comparing products to determine their power efficiency.

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Andrew Fanara, program manager for the EPA's Climate Protection Partnership Division, said the agency wants to develop more standardized information to measure the energy consumption of data center products.

"The long-term Holy Grail, if there is one, is to be able to measure how efficient systems are when they're actually doing computing," Fanara said, "and then presenting that information to users and buyers in an industry-standard format."

No deadline has been set for establishing the green storage specification. Fanara said the process could take anywhere from six months to three years, depending on technical issues, industry interest and manufacturer support. Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at Stillwater, Minn.-based StorageIO Group, said he expects the initial specification in 18 months to two years.

Challenges to data storage industry agreement

Schulz said the EPA's biggest challenge will be getting the data storage industry to agree on an initial specification and a roadmap for future green storage specifications. "In some ways, the EPA is tasked with herding cats," he said.

The specification is a blueprint that will define the energy guidelines enterprise data storage devices must meet to participate in the Energy Star program, Fanara said. Once a product meets the specification guidelines, manufacturers can voluntarily submit the product information to the EPA and the product will be added to a data storage equipment Energy Star-compliant list.

Schulz said the specification's applicability to storage users' real-world needs will be the key to its success. "The program's metrics have to be of benefit for the IT organization," Schulz said. "Otherwise, it's just an interesting exercise."

Schulz believes the initial green storage specification should focus on the amount of energy a storage device uses while working, as opposed to the device's energy use while idle.

"With the focus on efficiency optimization, boosting productivity and business economic sustainability, the issue then becomes how efficient the device is while doing work," he said.

Framework for testing and performance

Fanara said he expects the EPA to issue a framework document within 60 days, prepared by the EPA Energy Star technical staff in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Energy. Energy Star staff will also gather input from data storage devices users, buyers and component suppliers. The framework will identify initial testing procedures, and the performance and features organizations typically look for when buying data storage.

The framework will be released to the industry for comments and feedback on identifying barriers to energy efficiencies and standardized product information.

Battling to make data centers green

Fanara said the green storage specification is part of the EPA's concentration on increasing data center energy efficiency.

He said the agency has "identified data centers as an important growing source of energy consumption, especially given its unique position as a critical component of our country's computing backbone."

The Energy Star program is developing a data center and office building benchmarking program that will rate a building's energy efficiency from one to 100. So far, the agency has benchmarked close to 100,000 office buildings nationwide, Fanara said.

To help storage managers identify and evaluate data center energy-efficiency opportunities, the U.S. Department of Energy offers the Data Center Energy Profiler (DC Pro) software tool suite, which includes two free software tools for data center managers. The DC Pro Profiling Tool diagnoses how energy is used in a data center, and provides ways to save energy and money. The DC Pro Assessment Tools conduct a more accurate assessment of data center energy-efficiency opportunities for each major data center system.

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