Energy and the Rights of Consumers

You’re aware of our climate challenges, you’re not super rich, and you’re out looking for a new car. Its a pretty safe bet that you’re taking a look at the stickers on the car windows that tell you how many miles per gallon you might get. In the US there’s two numbers, ‘city’ and ‘highway’, but you have a good sense of your driving patterns so you know how to weigh these numbers in your decision. And the good thing is that there’s a double win - a more efficient car lowers your environmental impact and you’ll save some cash in the process.

Next on your shopping list is a computer. Maybe you’re buying a server for your company or a PC for home. There’s already lots of eco rating schemes (almost all for PCs): Energy Star, 80 Plus, EPEAT and now Climate Savers Computing. With all of these rating systems, it must be easy to find out how much power a new PC will actually use, right? Turns out that the answer is no.

And not only is it difficult to find real power numbers for desktops, but also for servers as well. Not only does this make it harder to make good purchasing decisions, but it makes it hard to accurately size the cooling and power distribution in the datacenter, so people add in fudge factors and guess high to be safe. Unfortunately, datacenter infrastructure runs less efficient at lower utilization, so not only are people buying more than they need, but what they get isn’t as efficient as it could be.

I’ve heard a couple of arguments about why this data isn’t available. The first is that the power varies by application. That’s true for cars as well, and the answer there is to provide more than one datapoint and let customers extrapolate their own experience. This seems reasonable for computers as well, and the success of server performance benchmarks is another good sign. The second is that the power varies by utilization. Again, I think that customers can deal with the data - lets give it to them.

The last two are that a) there’s no standards, and b) configuration options make it too complex. We agree that standards would be great, and there’s good progress on that front, but we don’t believe that there’s a need to wait. Our strategy is to put out power calculators that help people compute the expected power of specific configurations, which helps deal with challenge (b) above. When standards emerge, we’ll adapt our processes and data to be aligned with those.

At this point we’ve got calculators out for some of our higher volume products, and are in the process of working our way through the whole product line. For example, check out the calculator for the Sun SPARC Enterprise T2000 server or the Intel-based Sun Fire x4150. We don’t have full utilization graphs yet, but those will start to be available at some point as well.

We believe that with our customers facing numerous energy challenges, ranging from practical power and cooling issues to economic issues to environmental issues, they deserve to have an accurate estimate of how much power the products that they buy will use. We are committed to providing that data, and to supporting processes to standardize that data.

Take a look at what we’re doing today and give us some feedback.