Obama’s Climate Bill for Gov’t Data Centers

In October, 2009, President Obama issued an Executive Order (EO 13514) that set federal energy efficiency standards.  EO 13514 superceeds the previous executive order put in place by President Bush (EO 13423) from 2007.  While the previous order required the government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3% per year, totaling at least a 30% reduction by 2015 from 2003 levels, Obama’s order actually lets each department set their own goal.  EO 13514, in contrast to EO 13423, is much more specific about the improvements that have to be made in transportation fleets, building design, etc.  Just to be clear, this order only applies to federal government and their respective organizations, not the country at large.  You can think of it as a government-specific climate bill.

What’s more important, is that EO 13514 has specific language about data centers.  Federal organizations must “implement best management practices for energy-efficient management of servers and Federal data centers.”  The goal is to bring the Federal government in line with commercial best practices.  The government has thus set some very generic “Guiding Principals”, and then it is up to each of the organizations to meet their stated GHG goals for Class 1, Class 2, and Class 3 emissions. Let’s take a look at what some of the government organizations have done to comply with EO 13514.

The IRS has taken, in my opinion, the most significant stand on improving energy efficiency in data centers.  They commissioned an audit late in 2009 from the Treasure Inspector General for Tax Administration, and the results of that audit including IRS rebuttal were made available in May.  While the audit is a good first step, the results and recommendations are not earth-shattering, nor is the analysis behind the recommendations.  The good news is the IRS is trying to find out exactly where their weaknesses are (primarily focused on airflow management, a red herring to the real problem of underutilized equipment and inefficient/old applications), the bad news is that the IRS and auditor differ in opinion, and the timeline to rollout efficiency upgrades is really extended (to 2012 and beyond). Most “best practices” can be implemented in 6 months or less in a moderately-sized data center.

The #1 recommendation was to implement “policies and procedures to evaluate and determine which best practices to implement.”  Basically it says that, now that we’ve identified a number of areas for improvement, someone has to run the analysis to decide which to implement.  The #2 recommendation to the IRS?  Implement an energy monitoring and management system, including sub-metering down to the equipment to get an accurate read on which is using the most power.  Guess what?  Sentilla Energy Manager with Virtual Meters can do that for you without having to buy, install, or commission a single meter!

While the Department of Defense has not disclosed specific data center plans, the DoD has set an agressive target of 34% reduction of GHGs by 2020.  The DoD consumes 80% of the electricity used by the federal government.  The buildings and land operated by the DoD add up to an area the size of Pennsylvania. The Defense Information Systems Agency operates the 14 DoD data centers (consolidated from 50).

In other news, the NSA is planning a $1.6 billion / 1,000,000 square foot / 70MW data center in Utahto consolidate operations and support future growth.  It can neither be confirmed nor denied that the NSA data center in Fort Meade, Maryland is responsible for power grid brown outs. Keep in mind that Federal organization can opt-out of EO 13514 in the interest of “national security”. I’m sure that NSA is going to do exactly that.

The federal government also has a huge data center consolidation plan underway, being led by the OMB.  The plan, discussed at CIO.gov, requires all Federal data centers to take a full inventory of their systems and then identify each system with a code between 0 and 5 that determines the system’s eligibility for consolidation.  Many have pointed out that this is an impossible task, and I tend to agree.  To expect an inventory of hundreds of thousands of servers to be completed in a reasonable time period without pre-budgeted tools is a nightmare.  While the OMB will provide a list of tools that may be used, they do not provide funding or assistance.

To make matters even worse, EO 13514 requires that all government agencies disclose their GHG goals and have their progress tracked publicly.  But there is no central place that currently exists (shame on you OMB!), and CIO.gov has failed to track the IT compliance progress of government organizations.  Agency reportcards are in different places and some cannot even be found online.

The Federal government has a good ways to go before they are in compliance with EO 13514, and they certainly have their work cut out to make their data centers more energy efficient.  The best solution is to deploy automation and management tools — use the same systems and best practices that commercial organizations have adopted in order to identify, strategize, and act on the highest return energy efficiency projects.



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