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The Conserve IT Con

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There’s been a lot of blogosphere talk recently about the Wikibon “Conserve_IT” initiative and how California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company are taking the initiative and offering organisations rebates for demonstrable IT efficiencies. You can find comments here, here and here.

Unfortunately as with so many of these kinds of initiatives, the devil is in the detail. It is worth spending time reading the Conserve IT wiki page and Wikipedia’s page on the California Energy Crisis of 2000/2001. To quote from Conserve IT: “Power in California is severely constrained”. Why is that? The answer is pretty simple; California botched their deregulation of the energy markets and were screwed over by many companies, including Enron. In addition, significant underinvestment has placed restrictions on power distribution within the state (some of which is starting to be remedied).

It is pretty obvious that companies such as PG&E need other methods of controlling energy growth (Wikibon almost claim a virtue of the way per capita energy growth has remained flat in California compared to the rest of the US and Europe) and rebates for efficient energy use is their approach. Don’t think of this as an altruisic green initiative – PG&E and others can’t provide the electricity required.

So what about the Conserve IT initiative?

“As part of the qualification process, Wikibon has launched the Wikibon Energy Labs, an independent verification service that validates energy measurements of vendor products. “

Do we have so little faith in our vendors? When companies deploy equipment into their datacentres do they not measure the increased load on their PDUs? HDS and EMC provide tools for calculating the power demands of their products. These are detailed methods of analysis, down to the component level. Cisco provide significant information on power draw for their equipment (I’ve talked about this before). I’m sure other companies do to – feel free to mail me links or tools for calculating power demands for other manufacturers (I’ve asked HP about this for EVA but had no response so far).

The truth is, most eletricity generating companies are out to make money and giving organisations rebates for using less of their products makes no business sense. Where there are constraints on offering a service, then perhaps rebates or other incentives can do good, but this is not the norm and won’t be replicated as a model across the rest of the US or the world.

As an organisation, you can do all the power calculations yourself. It isn’t hard and it isn’t hard to validate expected power draw against reality by getting one of your electricians to double check power consumption of a particular piece of hardware.

I’d urge all the vendors to make their power tools transparent and available. I would also urge them to incorporate KVA/cooling figures into their management tools.

In the meantime, read the links above and see how pointless Conserve IT is.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • Dave

    Chris – you are right on some points but I think you're being overly negative on others.

    Power IS severely constrained in CA and they DID botch deregulation. Seems they have 4 choices: 1) import; 2) build really expensive plants; 3) constrict growth or 4) conserve.

    As you are probably aware, CA has an explicit quid-pro-quo tied to its rate increases (and penalties for missing conservation targets) so this DOES make business sense for PG&E. See this 212 page government document for a description of the arrangement:
    http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/efile/PD/71203.pdf

    As for the model not being replicated across the rest of the U.S. it's simply not true. Here's a coalition of utilities providing similar programmes (how's that spelling for sucking up to the Brits):
    http://grovesite.com/page.asp?o=utilitieshightechee&s=Visitors&p=284107&i=0#a213940

    EMC and HDS are both customers of Conserve IT– despite their excellent tools. The tools don't speak the language of utilities and rebates…that's the point of Conserve IT– to help customers get REEEEEEBATES (that's American spelling for sarcastic).

    Are you really advising your clients to pay electricians to come into their IT shops, put meters on mission critical equipment and measure the power consumption out of IT products at different workloads throughout the day because they can? Why not just fill out a form and get a rebate instead? It's way cheaper, way faster, way simpler and the vendors/utilities are paying for it!

    The point of Conserve IT is to help customers get rebates. In more than a year and a half, not a single storage customer got a rebate and we helped 3PAR's customer at CSU East Bay get one in less than 90 days.

    Speaking as a customer advocate, PG&E's motivations are what they are…We're much more interested in helping customers in the Wikibon community access incentives.

    Cheers,

    Dave from Wikibon.org

  • marcfarley

    Chris, I think you started with a couple assumptions here that don't hold. Energy suppliers in California are rate-regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and cannot raise rates or build power plants unless the CPUC approves them. The current deal, through year end 2008 ties utility rate increases to certain conservation goals, otherwise called the Energy Efficiency Portfolio.

    The new Energy Portfolio, which runs from 2009 to 2011, also has aggressive conservation measures in it as well as including approval for a new, high efficiency (and profitable) power plant. It is very clearly in the best interest of the major energy utilities to meet these conservation goals. Hence, it follows that PG&E is trying very hard to demonstrate how energy is being conserved. To that end, they have developed over 80 specific conservation programs covering a wide variety of customers and industries. The point of using third party validation for these programs is to create an independently managed,repeatable and standardized metric for energy consumption – which serves as the basis for energy efficiency rebates. Without third party validation, there is no program and therefore no rebates to claim and less incentive for companies to make energy-driven buying decisions. Companies don't have to participate if they don't want to.

    Conserve IT is simply a service that vendors can use if they want to participate in California's IT energy rebate program.

  • Chris M Evans

    Dave/Marc thanks for your comments.

    I have read a large number of the documents relating to rebates and incentives. It is far from simple and I have a few points that are worth spelling out;

    Are these rebates for existing equipment in place or for replacing current equipment? Are there any restrictions on how long equipment must be in place to gain the rebates?

    I suspect that there may be other business factors which negate the benefit of the electricity costs savings.

  • Chris M Evans

    Dave, just to counter some of your other points; firstly the GroveSite link you provide; I quote “At this time the Coalition does not directly engage with information technology vendors, IT user organizations, or other associations” – so how do they think they can achieve their goal of “promoting the adoption of energy efficiency programs and services directed towards data centers and information technology infrastructure”?

    On the subject of advising client to employ electricians, no that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that vendors provide plenty of data to allow customers to work out their own power efficiency in storage. If a customer wanted to verify the vendor’s figures, then at installation time, the customer could use their electrician to double check the vendors’s calculations. After that it’s simply a case of using the power tools to keep an accurate inventory. Are you advocating building a storage array to match each customers’ configuration every time you want to validate the power consumption of an array?

    Finally, I can’t see any benefit in “filling out a form to get a rebate” when you’ve not changed your underlying power consumption model. How has that helped things?

  • Dave

    Chris…I think we're making good progress. Your questions are valid. PG&E specifically have very strict requirements about qualifications for rebates and a variety of programs, including retrofit (replacing existing gear) and new construction. In the case of the latter, the goal is to create a set of standards so that it CAN be as simple as, for example, the 80 PLUS program with power supplies. Utilities will pay a rebate for the installation of products that use 80%+ efficient power suppliers. Similarly, what Conserve IT is doing is attempting to standardize the process as much as possible by supporting the creation of a set of baselines against which storage and other equipment can be measured. We have much work to do but to the degree we can help customers identify and quantify products that are more energy efficient we feel that is goodness.

    What vendor calculators will do is to compare a brand new product against say a five year old product and quantify the power savings. That's fine but utilities commonly will NOT pay an incentive for replacing ancient gear because customers are going to do that anyway. Rather PG&E and others are looking to accelerate the takeout of equipment that is either not so old or in the case of new construction, provide incentives to invest in technologies that are more energy efficient.

    Regarding the GroveSite comment…utilities are engaging with vendors extensively as individual entities (I promise you) but it's not the Coalition's agenda to engage with vendors as an entity. Rather the focus is sharing best practices on utility energy efficiency programs and frankly few vendors have anything to offer there. Some do and are invited to participate but very selectively.

    To your point about building a storage array to match customers' configurations, etc. you simply don't understand what Conserve IT is all about. We don't verify vendor figures for the sake of just confirmation, we do so in such a way as to satisfy the utility that a specific technology in a specific use case actually DOES change the underlying power consumption model. The rebate provides incentives to influence customer behavior and that's the point.

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