Power Assure Pushes Standard for Energy Consumption of Servers

Will a new metric for measuring the energy efficiency of individual servers take off? On Monday, startup Power Assure unveiled a new metric and accompanying standard for measuring the energy consumption of individual servers.

The new server performance standard, launched by the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) (the big electronics certification and testing organization) is called UL 2640 and it’s based on Power Assure’s technology, called PAR4. The PAR4 metric is meant to measure server power consumption in various ways, including monitoring idle power, peak power, total utilization power, and “transactions-per-watt.” Basically, PAR4 enables servers of different makes, models and generations to be compared to one another in terms of energy efficiency.

That type of detailed measurement is mostly lacking in today’s world of incomplete and sometimes-contradictory server metrics. But it’s already gaining acceptance from some of the heavyweights in the data center industry. Power Assure says Intel (s INTC), Dell (s DELL) and Cisco (s CSCO) have been working to incorporate PAR4 into their systems.

The Underwriters Laboratories tests new servers for safety, and will be including testing of new servers’ UL 2640 ratings based on PAR4. That should help the metric be incorporated in new servers coming to market from multiple manufacturers, Power Assure CEO Brad Wurtz told us in an interview last week.

“This means more accurate input into data center planning and power use,” Wurtz said. Power Assure says its technology can derive real-world server power usage statistics from equipment that doesn’t always come with the most accurate depiction of its true power needs.

The main problem, as Wurtz described it, is that many server makers tend to publish specifications for their servers that overstate how much power they need at a maximum power draw. There’s a reason for this: Server makers don’t want data center operators to try to run too many servers off one rack or power supply, only to see a surge in power use blow circuits or damage equipment. That’s how data center managers get fired.

But overestimating energy consumption for servers also means data centers are often under-utilizing their available power per rack, row or section of the data center. One of the key benefits of Power Assure’s software is to measure and establish a true power use maximum for the servers in the data center, then allow data center operators to fill in their racks to get the most computing power-per-watt available. This ultimately enables data center operators to know exactly how far they can push their existing servers when they need them.

Beyond getting the PAR4  metric out into the world, Power Assure is launching a new set of analysis tools to complement its existing lines of power management and automation software. The idea is to add capacity planning, management and forecasting abilities to data center operators’ existing set of tools to manage the interplay of server power use with data center facility systems, such as chillers, air handlers and other equipment.

There are tons of companies working on similar platforms to measure and manage data center power, at the server level, the IT equipment level, and the overall building level. For example, San Francisco-based Sentilla’s software tracks and manages server power use across both physical servers and servers that have been virtualized.

On the building side, Folsom, Calif.-based SynapSense monitors temperature, humidity, power use and other factors in data centers to fine-tune equipment operation to the needs of individual server racks and rows. San Francisco-based Modius pulls together different building systems into a single database and automation platform. Startups like Viridity Software and Racktivity are tackling server and facility energy management in different ways.

Many of these data center players are forming partnerships with giants in their fields. SynapSense has a strategic relationship with — and  investment from — General Electric (s GE), while Power Assure has landed an investment from Swiss power giant ABB (s abb), and recently demonstrated interoperability with ABB’s data center automation technology.

Whether data center operators will embrace the power per server metric — and Power Assure’s software — remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure: data center energy efficiency is becoming a key issue. Data centers are now consuming around 2.5 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, and the EPA projects data center power use will double by 2015 to add up to $7.4 billion in annual power bills.

Power Assure will be showing off the new software at the Uptime Institute’s Symposium 2011 conference this week in Santa Clara, Calif. No doubt there will be plenty of other green data center innovation on display at the show. Stay tuned for more reports from the intersection of data and energy to come.

Image courtesy of sbisson via Creative Commons license.