Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Tuesday, November 29, 2022

A New Tool for Building Energy Efficient Servers 

At the request of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) is developing something called the Server Efficiency Rating Tool (SERT) for the EPA’s second iteration of their server ENERGY STAR for Computer Servers program.

The effort to foster more environmentally friendly datacenters includes several different metrics. The Green 500 list, started in November of 2007, uses the simple megaflops per watt. The Green Grid’s Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) measures IT power usage as a function of total facility power usage.

Now, at the request of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC) is developing something called the Server Efficiency Rating Tool (SERT) for the EPA’s second iteration of their server ENERGY STAR for Computer Servers program.

The EPA started its ENERGY STAR for Computer Servers program back in 2011, when they noted to Congress that energy used at data centers constituted around three percent of total energy usage in the United States. While three percent on the surface does not seem like a significant amount, a thirty percent reduction in emissions in data centers would equate to preventing emissions from one million motor vehicles, according to the EPA.

Indeed, a thirty percent reduction is exactly what the ENERGY STAR program is striving toward. “Computer servers that earn the ENERGY STAR will, on average, be 30 percent more energy efficient than standard servers.  If all servers sold in the United States meet this new specification, energy cost savings would approach $800 million per year.”

SERT is meant as a software toolkit that will collect data on various subsets of the server, such as the processing and memory, and aggregate them to create a thorough model of how efficient the machine is. “Designed to be simple to configure and use via a comprehensive graphical user interface, the SERT uses a set of synthetic worklets to test discrete system components such as processors, memory and storage, providing detailed power consumption data at different load levels,” noted SPEC in their release on the process behind SERT. “Results are provided in both machine- and human-readable forms, enabling automatic submission to government-sponsored certification programs as well as both summary and detail reports for use by potential customers.”

SPEC and the EPA will work together for nine months to determine how best to rank servers using SERT. Since the test is new and relatively complicated compared to PUE and megaflops per watt, SPEC and the EPA will need time to build up a sample size to ensure a proper recommendation. It should be noted that metrics like PUE are not specifically designed for direct comparison while SERT is.

"If a customer knows their application is going to be heavy on CPU and memory, for instance, he can look at the data and choose the most efficient server for that workload," said Klaus Dieter-Lange, SPEC chairman. He went on to explain how he expects the implementation of the tool by the ENERGY STAR program will affect server design. "The server vendors will be forced to design more efficient servers, not just for CPU-intensive workloads but also for memory and storage as well.”

By rule, only 25 percent of servers will garner ENERGY STAR rating. Further, those will be the only servers allowed to be sold on the public market. It will be worth following how effective SERT will be at identifying efficiency.

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