Modern data centers – IT Web Daily

It is not difficult for a data center to appear modern. Towering cabinets stand proudly in rows, housing the racks that often make up the heart of business operations. These are surrounded by impressive support systems, from cool air rushing underneath the raised floors to fire-detection and suppression systems ready to tackle any blaze.

But, behind that sophistication you can often find power distribution architectures that are outdated. Many modern data centers still rely on power designs that were developed decades ago. This, despite significant leaps not only in power supply design, but the demands modern IT equipment place on that supply. Is this something that is chronically overlooked?

“I think it is,” says George Senzere, Solutions Engineering Manager at Schneider Electric. “Power is regarded as a commodity, so many people have simply expected it to work while they focus on the more demanding and sophisticated parts of the data center. But power designs were never going to stay stagnant when the technology they support has been changing in big ways. Traditional power supply designs cannot effectively support modern data centers anymore. But people are starting to realise this.”

It may appear as if power distribution choices for data centres are being implemented at a significant pace. After all, past predictions of data centre power usage growth have fallen short due to new efficiencies. Most data centre owners and tenants also give regular attention to power usage effectiveness (PUE). But those benefits, according to the Uptime Institute Data Center Industry Survey, were mainly achieved nearly a decade ago and were not necessarily prepared for the shifts in IT ecosystems that have since emerged.

Advancements among IT devices have changed how power is utilised in data centres. According to the APC whitepaper, Comparing Data Center Power Distribution Architectures, these changes are driven by more IT devices, more IT refreshes, higher power density, as well as the type of devices being deployed.

The number of IT devices has exploded: whereas traditional data centres were home to a few monolithic systems, today’s equivalent houses thousands of different devices. These are subject to more refreshes as new technology is developed, creating new power demands. Data centres have to be able to introduce these without destabilising the power to resident devices.

Rising numbers of devices have also led to higher power density and multiple branch circuits per cabinet. Adapting traditional power to this demand has led to more cables, often interfering with other areas of the data centre, such as air corridors. Finally, the very nature of the new devices require dual power path systems to ensure that no circuit is overloaded above 50%.

“A modern data centre needs to be a fluid, continuous environment. You should be able to plug in a new device without interfering with other devices or adding new wiring. What is the point of agile systems that deploy quickly when you still have to wait for power to be provisioned as it was 40 years ago?” Senzere explains.

Despite the commodity reputation of power supply, different data centres have different requirements. There are five distinct designs that can be considered when updating the power distribution architecture in a data centre. Detailed by the whitepaper, these are panelboard distributions, traditional field-wired PDUs (power distribution units), traditional factory-configured PDUs, floor-mount modular power distribution, and modular overhead/underfloor power busways.

The right power architecture depends on numerous factors, such as cost, the load requirement, parts availability, distance to cabinets, available space in the centre, and future upgrades. For example, factory-configured PDU distribution architectures are generally less expensive, faster to deploy and provide better change management. But, due to their prefabricated design, they have to be considered early in the development of the data centre. It is also more expensive to install new cables and breakers after the fact, and such architecture can take up more space than other solutions.

“‘One size fits all’ is no longer a part of the power supply landscape,” says Senzere. “There are big gains that can come from selecting the right power architecture, but it involves numerous factors.”

Don’t neglect the background infrastructure that makes your data center hum. There are major gains to be made in terms of efficiency and deployment times, both for you and the tenants of your data center.

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