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Energy Star for efficient servers?

Federal agency says there's a "compelling need" for a certification to help spotlight energy-efficient products.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gives its Energy Star certification to energy-efficient refrigerators, DVD players, windows, air conditioners and light bulbs. Now it's considering adding servers to the list.

In a letter to computing-industry representatives Thursday, the federal agency said it "is initiating its process to develop an Energy Star specification for enterprise computer servers." Energy Star certification is a voluntary program identifying products that meet EPA-set efficiency requirements.

The EPA's discussions with computing-equipment makers and data center operators has shown "compelling evidence of the need for this specification," according to the letter from Andrew Fanara, an Energy Star program manager. But the certification isn't a foregone conclusion: "In the coming months, EPA will conduct an analysis to determine whether such a specification for servers is viable, given current market dynamics, the availability and performance of energy-efficient designs and the potential energy savings," Fanara said.

Fanara was one speaker at a conference earlier this year on energy problems afflicting the computing industry, particularly data centers packed with servers. Hot processors, power supplies, memory chips and other components raise utility bills, strain electricity distribution systems and overtax air-conditioning.

The energy problem has triggered new avenues of research in the industry. Advanced Micro Devices and Intel are focusing on building chips with more processing cores rather than a higher clock frequency and correspondingly higher power consumption. IBM's next-generation Power6 processor has power management abilities that let it drop down to a 100-watt level. Sun Microsystems has been touting the energy efficiency of its UltraSparc T1 "Niagara"-based servers for more than a year. And Dell launched an energy-efficient server line in December.

Fanara said the EPA's discussions with computing-equipment makers and data center operators has shown "compelling evidence of the need for this specification."

Government involvement in computer efficiency is increasing. President George W. Bush signed a bill that urges Americans to buy energy-efficient servers, and the Department of Energy has begun trying to get involved in helping companies become more energy-efficient.