Intelligent PDUs & the Data Center Part 1: An Overview of Three Key Issues

Nicholas Polk
April 19, 2023

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Improve your data center's efficiency and profitability by solving its power quality monitoring issue. Don't wait until it's too late to save time and money.

Data center downtime is costly, with expenses running into hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars. As per the Uptime Institute, power-related issues account for 43% of all data center outages. With surging power demands, rising power costs, and a growing emphasis on reducing carbon footprints globally, the need for innovative and efficient methods of monitoring power quality along a data center's entire power chain has never been greater. This has given rise to an urgent requirement for a new generation of intelligent rack power distribution, monitoring, and control solutions that offer reliability. The importance of electrical reliability and power quality in preventing downtime cannot be overstated. But what exactly is power quality? Power quality refers to the consistency and usability of electric current, with good power quality arising from steady voltage, a consistent AC frequency, and a smooth waveform resembling a sine wave. Monitoring and managing power quality in data operations is essential for efficient and reliable functioning. However, there are still challenges to be overcome when it comes to power quality. These include gaining visibility into the data, optimizing efficiency and infrastructure, and integrating with existing BMS and DCIM systems.

The first power quality challenge comes from having no visibility into granular power quality data.

Power quality assessments are generally completed as one-time occurrences during the bring-up phase or a significant server overhaul of a data center. This means they often do not consider the impact of power quality issues in the facility on an ongoing basis or what power quality issues are caused simply by standard operations. Within a data center, operating equipment is inherently prone to power quality issues due to carrying non-linear loads. This equipment includes switch-mode power supply units, variable-speed drives, computers, and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Non-linear loads can cause harmonic distortion, which results in unwanted current, overheated cables, vibration, false device trips, energy loss, and other equipment malfunction or failure. A lack of visibility into critical power metrics limits failover planning severely and drives up device failure rates, which exposes facilities to downtime risk.

The second challenge is an inability to optimize efficiency and infrastructure.

Driven by the lack of available power quality metrics, challenges around optimizing for operational efficiency and scaling mission-critical infrastructure arise. Issues like stranded capacity and the data center industry's "dirty little secret" become obstacles to deploying high-density IT infrastructure due to the inability to maximize space and usage effectively. The same level of monitoring that paves the way for maximum usage and efficiency in deployments can also be used to identify zombie servers that consume significant power while idle and provide clarity into outlet issues and overcurrent events. All of these events can lead to costly downtime - a problem that could be avoided with better real-time, granular visibility into power quality at the rack and outlet level than what conventional intelligent rack PDU solutions offer.

The third challenge is a need for more integration for power quality monitoring with existing management tools.

While many intelligent PDUs exist on the market today, data center facility managers still need tools and features that can help them further drive operational uptime and efficiency. The risk posed by unchecked power quality issues is accurate, and the Uptime Institute statistics demonstrate that the threat of downtime is still alive and well. Unfortunately, current intelligent PDU solutions all struggle with integrating seamlessly with any building management systems (BMS) or data center infrastructure management (DCIM) architectures that are in place. This creates a divide between the general monitoring available and the tools that data center managers rely on to operate their facilities, hindering their ability to manage power quality appropriately. The ideal intelligent PDU used for monitoring and addressing power quality issues in the data center would need to be able to communicate with existing BMS and DCIM systems through universal APIs such as Redfish, JSON-ROC, or SNMP.

Reimagining the intelligent PDU is the best starting point for improving uptime in data center facilities. With real-time visibility, facility managers can protect their facility's uptime effectively. However, operators are still putting their bottom lines at risk due to current intelligent PDU technology limitations. Addressing power quality issues at the rack and device level through enhanced monitoring and management solutions can significantly benefit the data center industry. At Legrand, we are committed to doing just that. In the upcoming Part 2 and Part 3 of this blog series, we will delve deeper into our approach. Stay tuned to our blog for more updates.

In the meantime, feel free to contact a Legrand team member to learn more about how our solutions can help you manage power quality more efficiently today.

Intelligent PDUs & the Data Center Part 2: Enhancing Power Quality Monitoring and Intelligence