According to the Wall Street Journal, Andy Karsner, the US Department of Energy's assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), recently spearheaded a meeting of technology chiefs at the headquarters of AMD in Sunnyvale, Calif. Rival firms like AMD, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, HP and Dell convened to discuss ways to curb electricity costs. Karsner promised that his agency would tap its know-how to help companies design more efficient data centers.

Similarly, officials at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have turned to Silicon Valley firms to find ways to reduce server systems' power demand. The EPA was directed to do this by recently passed legislation. IDC analyst Jed Scaramella said the number of servers used globally has increased by two-fold to about 28 million, up from about 14 million in 2000.

Servers now typically use 400 watts each today, compared to about 250 watts six years ago, he said. HP executive Paul Perez estimates that electricity consumption represents about 40 percent of a data center's total operating budget. In response, companies have been developing server chips that can run on lower frequencies and less energy-intensive ways to cool equipment.