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The Green Grid Banks On Power Reduction

Consortium of IT leaders seeks to implement standards for data center savings.

The long-term cost to power and cool an enterprise data center can dwarf the price of the hardware it hosts. The Green Grid alliance hopes to change that by developing standard metrics that will enable CIOs to spend less on utilities and more on innovation. The Green Grid's board of directors includes Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel, and VMware, and Cisco and EMC are on the list of contributors. With these technology power brokers on board, we're hopeful that the standards required for meaningful product comparisons can be agreed on.

In fact, the organization has, in just a few months, gained impressive national and international reach. Last month, the Green Grid and the U.S. Department of Energy announced that they'll collaborate to improve energy efficiency by developing best practices and tools to educate IT managers. That announcement was followed by news that the GG has formed two working groups in Europe.

Still, there are absences, notably Hitachi, NEC, Toshiba and other storage vendors. And why isn't Google going Green Grid?

The Green Grid promises to change the way various parts of the technology industry work together. The goal: to make IT more environmentally friendly by increasing the efficiency of the enterprise data center. Becoming more green should result in saving some green.

Most major manufacturers of enterprise computing hardware and software, including AMD, Dell, HP, Intel, and Microsoft. Notable holdouts include Google, as well as two of the world's major storage vendors, Hitachi Global Storage and Toshiba. Seeing as storage systems have increased in number and in power consumption, hopefully they'll soon see the green.

The Green Grid, founded in February, has already held one technical summit to get the ball rolling. By September, the group announced it had 92 members, up by 50 since April. As 2007 wanes, we've seen a significant number of enterprise computing products designed to use less power. The outlook for the future depends on the industry at large becoming more aware of the need to lessen data center power consumption.

The GG sees a future where measuring and comparing data center efficiency is a simpler process. Several Green Grid members have already taken new power-efficient products to the streets. For example, this year saw the launch of the most energy-efficient processors AMD and Intel have ever produced.

Despite this rapid growth, one of the biggest challenges that GG faces is tempering the competitive instincts of its members, which are individually investing millions of dollars into research and development for data center efficiency. Microsoft, for example, recently announced a $500,000 commitment to sustainable computing. The company also plans to fund research that seeks new approaches to power-optimized computing architectures and adaptive power management technologies.

Playing nice is a taller order for some companies that are in more heavily competitive environments than Microsoft. Dell, for example, has chosen a more narrow and focused look at green comput- ing, centering its strategy on improving the efficiency of devices that must be powered and cooled. And Glenn Keels, a member of Dell's commercial server team, has published remarks calling HP's Dynamic Smart Cooling product nothing but "hot air." HP, meanwhile, is investing in products that more granularly control the HVAC systems of the data center, which in turn increases efficiency.

There's enough blame for the sad state of power consumption to go around, and we hope Green Grid members can tone down the rhetoric and work together; the alternative isn't pretty.

One GG member that has a pivotal role in changing the look of the data center is VMware. The GG has a potential role to play in leading the technology industry as we take virtualization to the next level. While VMware's participation is promising, one company conspicuously absent from the Green Grid is Google. The search company is said to have more than 50 data centers worldwide--so far--so we'd expect to see it in the mix.

The GG's membership roster also includes just a lone storage drive manufacturer, Seagate. This is discouraging because one of the most overlooked parts of data center power consumption is storage. Drives being shipped today spin faster and use more power than ever.

Ryan Elstad is a system administrator at Syracuse University's Martin J. Whitman School of Management. Write to him at relstad@nwc.com.

Analysis, strategies, opinions, and more. Data Center Immersion Center.

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