The recent release of Energy Star requirements for servers may have coaxed a collective sigh of relief from datacenter operators who've felt the pressure to cut energy waste. The well-known Energy Star symbol, after all, is associated with energy efficiency. Thus, having that familiar logo stamped on a server might suggest it will deliver equal or better performance than its non-Energy Star rivals while consuming less electricity.
Unfortunately, the new Energy Star requirements for servers have enough shortcomings that they are unsuitable to be primary criteria for the purchase of new hardware equipment. That's not to say they have no value whatsoever; as observed by Subodh Bapat, vice president of energy efficiency and distinguished engineer at Sun, they are "a good first step."
A bit of background: These new Energy Star server requirements for servers have been under development for about a year and a half. The EPA drew on feedback from stakeholders, such as server vendors (including Sun), to hammer out the final requirements released late last week. In a nutshell, the criteria were limited to machines with one to four sockets and at least one hard drive. Additionally, blades weren't included, though the EPA said requirements for those should be out in a couple of months.
Idle servers are the devil's tools
So what's wrong with the new Energy Star criteria? Perhaps the most significant drawback is that a qualifying server need only demonstrate energy efficiency when it's in idle -- that is, powered on but doing no work.
To better illustrate the problem, imagine you're at a used car lot where a shifty salesperson is trying to push you to buy an SUV. His selling point: "This baby uses the same amount of fuel as a hybrid sedan -- when you're not moving."
You probably wouldn't be too impressed by this fact, as you likely intend to spend more time driving your car when it's turned on, rather than idling at stop signs or in the driveway. Thus, you want to know how many miles per gallon the vehicle gets in the city and on the freeway.