Supporters renew push for federal data center bill

data center

A House Democrat’s bill designed to improve the energy efficiency of federal data centers appears to stand little chance of moving on its own, but could wind up as part of a larger Senate energy bill that has supporters in both parties.

The data center measure was introduced in February by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) , but the Energy and Commerce Committee of which she is a senior member has yet to hold a hearing on the legislation.

On the Senate side, there is a push among supporters to bring the broader energy bill, backed by New Hampshire Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Ohio Republican Rob Portman, to the floor. The legislation stalled in September amid debate on the continuing resolution and a Republican push to defund the 2010 health care law.

The bipartisan bill would create a voluntary rating program along the lines of EnergySTAR to encourage supply chain efficiency and rewrite national building codes to require more energy-efficient construction. A provision on data center consolidation had been added to the bill when it was first considered in the Senate, and a similar provision is likely to be included if a new version of the legislation comes to the Senate floor.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Energy and Power Subcommittee, told SNL Energy in September that he would move on the Shaheen-Porter bill if the Senate passes it. "Anytime we talk about efficiency, we're all up there hugging and holding each other," he said.

Speaking at a Capitol Hill event convened by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, Eshoo noted that federal data centers are responsible for 10 percent of all U.S. data energy use, which adds up to about $600 million annually. "I think that's a low number myself," she added. Her legislation would require the Office of Management and Budget to develop a government-wide strategy on energy efficiency and focus on improving IT asset utilization and establishing metrics for measuring savings and performance. "I think government should be leading by example," Eshoo said.

In that vein, a measure that would provide an accurate count of federal data centers and establish metrics to apply to a consolidation initiative spearheaded by federal CIO Steve VanRoekel was proposed as an amendment to the Senate defense authorization bill on Nov. 19.

But since Eshoo first become active on the issue almost a decade ago, it has been the private sector leading the way in consolidation.

Eric Massanet, a professor at Northwestern University said the past eight years have brought "unprecedented" improvements in data center energy efficiency and shifts to cloud-based virtualization at large private-sector companies. But smaller data centers have an opportunity to slash energy use by up to 90 percent, with the use of more energy-efficient hardware, and policies that encourage reduced energy use across companies and institutions. Government could see improved results from the incorporation of stricter energy efficiency standards into procurement standards, Massanet said.

Available capital is big hurdle for government agencies looking to upgrade their hardware, fund consolidation projects, or move to the cloud. One available vehicle for energy efficiency is the energy saving performance contract (ESPC), in which a vendor essentially loans an agency the capital for an energy saving project and gets paid back out of the energy savings. The vehicle, which operates outside the traditional appropriations process, has been commonly used for weatherizing, retrofitting and other facilities-based projects, but its use in data center consolidation has thus far proved problematic.

A planned $70 million data center consolidation by the Department of Energy with Lockheed Martin has been held up for months as the Office of Management and Budget reviews the deal. Cathy Snyder, a government relations vice president at Lockheed, touted the future of ESPCs at the event. She acknowledged the snag with the DOE deal, but said ESPCs will be viable for data center consolidation in the long term.

"I don't know that it's exactly put a chill on other agencies. I know other agencies will comport with policy and law as it comes out," Snyder said. She noted that the Air Force announced plans for an ESPC to fund data center consolidation at Edwards Air Force Base. More generally, Snyder said, it's going to take a cultural shift for agencies to get more comfortable with the alternative funding mechanism.

The Obama administration is also nearing the end of an energy savings project. In December 2011, Obama tasked agencies with writing $2 billion in performance-based contracts by the end of 2013. When OMB last reported on its progress in June, it had awarded $560 million across 64 projects with another $1.7 billion in the pipeline. It's not clear why OMB is holding up the Lockheed-DOE deal, although an OMB letter on the topic to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) hints that the government might be looking to drive down financing costs of ESPCs related to data center consolidation.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is FCW's senior staff writer, and covers Congress, health IT and governmentwide IT policy. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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Reader comments

Thu, Nov 21, 2013 DC Fed Washington DC

A significant element to success in this area is, as was pointed out, replacing less efficient hardware with newer, more efficient hardware. Under the guidance issued over the last two FY's we have been ordered to extend the duty cycle of all IT hardware by a minimum of 1 year over normal standard replacement cycles. Last year's sequester activities pushe the refresh cycle even further out. In most cases it is a flat out freeze on purchasing unless the device fails and cant be repaired. Unless this bill overrides the freeze, we're stuck. Also, unless this bill provides funding to implement this, we're still stuck. You can only realize energy and cost savings by purchasing the newer hardware and vendors require cash up front. No cash, no consolidation. I guess if you like your servers, you can keep your servers.......

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