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Don’t Skimp On Power Distribution Units

Netshield South Africa CEO Inus Dreckmeyr has warned corporates against the false saving of buying “dumb” power distribution units (PDUs) instead of intelligent or smart PDUs.
Image: Netshield South Africa CEO Inus Dreckmeyr Image: Netshield South Africa CEO Inus Dreckmeyr

“The basic premise behind a PDU has expanded from what they were perceived to be in the past,” says Dreckmeyr. “Originally PDUs started out as the server cabinet equivalent of the multiplugs used in our homes. Similar to the way you would wall-mount a multiplug, PDUs are mounted in the cabinets that contain computing server and networking equipment, and offer a series of power ports to provision computing equipment with electricity.”

Smart PDUs take this a step further by measuring the status, condition and amount (instantaneous and accumulative) of power supplied to the cabinet itself, which automatically keeps track of how much power is being used by the equipment in the cabinet or the actual rack, rather than trying to do these calculations off of a spreadsheet. Managing power requirements becomes particularly important when expansion to current and additional equipment is added to an existing installation, increasing power consumption.

Market research company Technavio* predicts the global data centre rack PDU market will grow at a CAGR of 12.50% until 2019, and says the intelligent PDU segment is expected to multiply twice as much as the non-intelligent PDU market, posting a CAGR of almost 18%. “The remarkable growth of this segment is due to their [a smart PDU’s] ability to monitor and track power consumption in the distributed network and data centre environment – this improves energy efficiency and facilitates effective allocation of IT resources,” the report reads.

Infiniti Research Limited’s Global Data Center Rack Power Distribution Unit (PDU) Market 2015-2019 states that the increased complexity of data centre servers is a key challenge that the market faces. “Many business applications are managed through the cloud and server virtualisation. Increased usage of storage and network equipment makes the data centre environment more complex. Rack PDUs distribute power to this equipment to maintain application efficiency and performance,” the report reads.

So how does this translate in the local context? At a cabinet level, the smaller form factors that computing equipment is now made in, mean that more individual pieces of equipment are housed in a single cabinet or rack. As a result, the density of power ports needed per cabinet has increased. With increased port density comes a greater demand for electricity supplied to the cabinet, and the very real possibility of overloading the system which is in itself a fire risk.

“Basically, with increased power consumption, power feeds to equipment may start tripping and overheating and increases the risk of fire in the environment,” Dreckmeyr says.

To prevent overload, smart PDUs keep track of the instantaneous power consumption per rack mounted PDU, a task that would be a logistical nightmare if done manually. For example, a telco or ISP with two or three data centres has to keep track of each individual rack’s power consumption – across hundreds of racks and in multiple locations – to ensure network uptime.

“Doing this manually and ensuring that the data is always up to date is simply not feasible without a management system that automates the gathering of data related to power consumption and usage patterns, as smart PDUs do,” he explains. “Without smart PDUs, companies run the risk of overloading power feeds to cabinets and losing expensive equipment in the data centre. Then there are also the business concerns of not being able to deliver to a client’s agreed SLA levels, as well as loss of reputation through network outages, and the potential of data loss itself as a result of downtime.”

Dreckmeyr advises companies to invest in class I metered smart PDUs that can, at a relatively low cost, be expanded with additional power ports and sensor hubs for monitoring temperature, humidity, flooding and smoke in the cabinets. “This will provide not just a view of power management, but a holistic view of the full environment as well. After all, detection fuels proactive prevention, and that ultimately ensures your systems are not only running optimally – but are also relatively risk free,” he ends.

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