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Using Lithium-Ion Batteries in Data Center UPS Systems

interxion-containment-overhIn the data center world, aside from maximizing uptime, there is always a focus on using less energy and spending less money.  Large centers often set the tone for how this can be achieved because if it can be achieved on a large scale, it can frequently also be achieved in smaller scale facilities.  It is especially important to focus on these areas in large data centers because by reducing energy use it can dramatically improve expenditures, freeing up money in the budget.  Implementing an effective Uninterruptible Power Supply system is incredibly important and a good one can be the lifeblood of a data center – providing necessary backup power in the event of a power failure.  A UPS system is only as good as its batteries, if the batteries do not work, the whole system will not work.  Microsoft has recently implemented the use of new batteries in their facilities that are dramatically cutting costs.

Data centers, whether large or small, go through a lot of batteries to power their UPS system.  Batteries must be checked often and replaced as needed to ensure that when the system is needed during a power failure, they will be able to provide the necessary support.  TheNextPlatform describes how traditional batteries function, “In a traditional datacenter design, companies deploy uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, systems that are giant banks of lead acid batteries. The UPS provides power to the servers, storage and networks if there is a short glitch in the power feed that might otherwise cause the machinery to fail or reboot. The UPS sits in between the high voltage feed coming into the datacenter from the electrical grid substations and the server and storage machinery that runs at a much lower voltage inside the datacenter.”  Microsoft continues to move toward innovation within the technology industry by implementing the use of lithium-ion batteries in their UPS systems.  By making the switch, Microsoft reduces the need for a large equipment room footprint to house UPS systems which saves space and utilities for cooling and energy.  PCWorld elaborates on the advantages of the switch Microsoft has made, “The LES can replace traditional UPSes (Uninterruptible Power Supplies) for providing backup power to servers and other IT gear, Microsoft said. A UPS is designed to kick in fast if there’s an interruption to the main power, keeping equipment running during the seconds it takes for a diesel generator to start up and take over. Traditional UPSes use lead acid batteries, but they’re bulky and require a lot of maintenance. Microsoft says its lithium-ion battery system is five times cheaper than traditional UPSes, factoring in the cost to purchase, install and maintain them over several years. They also take up 25 percent less floor space, because they’re installed directly within the server racks… The batteries are hot-swappable, meaning they can be replaced without shutting down servers, and LES is suitable for data centers of all sizes, Harris said, including a data center closet with only a few servers… Microsoft isn’t the only company using lithium-ion batteries for backup power. Facebook submitted a somewhat similar design to the Open Compute Project last year and is using that in its own data centers. “The inflection point has just happened in the industry where lithium-ion is cheaper to deploy than lead-acid for a data center UPS,” Matt Corddry, Facebook’s director of hardware engineering, said last year.”  With such massive forces in the technology industry proving the advantages of switching to lithium-ion, many data centers of all sizes are sure to follow in their wake.

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Data Center UPS Trends and Management

data_center_facebookIn a data center the delicate balance of performing mission critical tasks, storing and protecting information, maximizing uptime and also being energy efficient all happen simultaneously.  Today clients demand their information systems to run effectively and run efficiently, and they demand them to be in use whenever they want them there.  Data centers must continue to look at ways to avoid power failures and maximize efficiency through an effective monitoring plan and a reliable UPS.  Proper redundancy to maximize uptime can be costly and drain a lot of energy.  But, without proper redundancy, a data center could experience catastrophic downtime.  The correct Uninterruptible Power Supply, UPS battery and monitoring must be in place to prevent problematic power failures from occurring.

There are many emerging trends in data center Uninterruptible Power Supply systems and management.  Major facilities are looking at ways to reduce power supply needs by implementing data networks so that, if a power outage occurs, data demands can be shifted from one server to another until uptime is restored.  Data Center Knowledge explains how, and why, big facilities are making a shift away from traditional UPS systems and UPS batteries to improve efficiency while maintaining and maximizing uptime, “Big uninterruptible power supply cabinets and rows of batteries that are similar in size to the ones under the hood of your car have been an unquestioned data center mainstay for years. This infrastructure is what ensures servers keep running between the time the utility power feed goes down and backup generators get a chance to start and stabilize. But companies that operate some of the world’s largest data centers – companies like Microsoft, Facebook, or Google – are in the habit of questioning just such mainstays. At their scale, even incremental efficiency improvements translate into millions upon millions of dollars saved, but something like being able to shave 150,000 square feet off the size of a facility or improve the Power Usage Effectiveness rating by north of 15 percent has substantial impact on the bottom line. Those are the kinds of efficiency improvements Microsoft claims to have achieved by rethinking (and finally rejecting) the very idea of the big central stand-alone data center UPS system. The company now builds what essentially is a mini-UPS directly into each server chassis – an approach it has dubbed Local Energy Storage… It saves physical space (150,000 square feet for a typical 25-megawatt data center, according to Shaun Harris, director of engineering for cloud server infrastructure at Microsoft, who blogged about LES this week). It is also more energy efficient, because it avoids double conversion electricity goes through in a traditional data center UPS. Finally, Microsoft saves by not adding reserve UPS systems (in case the primary ones fail) and by not having to build a “safety margin” in the primary UPS. Data center designers usually go through a lot of trouble to make sure the central UPS plant doesn’t fail, because if it does, every server downstream will go down when the utility feed fails.”  The need for an effective and efficient UPS is not going anywhere anytime soon, especially not for smaller locations that cannot rely on implementing a network of data sites.  Ensuring that your facility batteries and backup power supply are not only sufficient for your data center but are actually being monitored and will work if needed are critical steps in the process to maximizing uptime in the event of a power failure.

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Data Center PDUs – Why Intelligent Is Better Than Basic

dataencryptionphotoEvery data center manager is familiar with power distribution units or PDUs.  PDUs help distribute power throughout a location to storage devices, servers and networking equipment so that it can function seamlessly and properly.  Facility needs and infrastructure are not static, they continue to evolve over time and power distribution units are no exception.  Basic power distribution units are what most data centers are used to but today, much like in other areas of technology, intelligence is the name of the game.  Facility managers are on a quest for improved monitoring and maintenance that not only alerts them but is intelligent and capable of making proactive helpful decisions on its own to keep a data center functioning effectively and efficiently.  In the realm of PDUs, this comes in the form of intelligent PDUs.

Intelligent power distribution units are a high availability solution for data centers looking to move in an efficient and intelligent direction with their infrastructure so that uptime can be maximized while saving a significant amount of money.  What is the difference between intelligent and basic units?  Intelligent PDUs provide some of the most important things data center managers are looking for – functionality, adaptability, reliability and much more.  Raritan points out that intelligent power distribution units are capable of power distribution and multi-point metering, sequenced outlet power cycling, remote management, environmental monitoring, and asset tracking and infrastructure security.  These invaluable advantages would benefit any operation, large or small.  Data Center Knowledge points out why intelligent PDUs will not only help play a vital role in converting data center infrastructure to a more intelligent system but will also make a significant impact on the bottom line, “Organizations and data center administrators are constantly looking for ways to improve data center control and overcome these kinds of challenges. Consider this – a recent Ponemon Institute study showed that in 2013, the average cost of downtime was a staggering $7,908 per minute. The very same study also showed us that the cost of a data breach to a company is on average $145 per affected individual and $3.5M per incident. This means we’re dealing with real capacity, management, and even security challenges when it comes to data center control. This is where intelligence can begin to make a real difference… This means creating an architecture built around intelligence and one that can resolve some of the most pressing data center control challenges out there.”  While the upfront cost of an intelligent PDU may be a challenging pill to swallow for those who determine the budget, overall they will help contribute to a massive data center overhaul that will save a significant amount of money in the long run, more than paying for themselves.

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Data Center UPS Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)

Utility IncentivesEvery data center operates with a budget that plays a major role in determining specific data center infrastructure choices.  Any time major decisions must be made the budget will come into play, there will be discussion of upfront cost and what the potential return on investment is.  But, beyond those two things there are other factors to consider.  To get a true picture of value and help you make a better picture it is wise to look at the total cost of ownership, or TCO.  This is especially true when determining what UPS system is best for your data center.  By calculating UPS Total Cost of Ownership you will be able to realize both energy and cost saving potential over the life of the system and make a better, well-informed decision for your data center and its specific needs.

When calculating UPS Total Cost of Ownership, there are a few key areas to look at that will make an impact.  First are the initial purchase and installation costs.  While the initial purchase of a UPS may seem significant, and while it is important, it is far from the only thing that will influence the Total Cost of Ownership.  While the lowest cost solution may seem ideal because it will require the least investment up front, and it may seem like a “bargain,”  you often get what you pay for and it is frequently not the best overall investment.  For instance, if your UPS system will go through batteries more frequently, the cost of UPS batteries, as well as the additional installation time may end up adding substantial hidden cost to the TCO.  In addition to initial purchase and installation costs, UPS efficiency must also be considered.  Nothing will be a bigger drain on your energy, and thus your money than an inefficient UPS.  What major facilities have shown us is that even what seems to be a small gain will often yield substantial savings.  Even a 1 or 2 percent energy savings from a more efficient UPS has the potential to save millions of dollars for a data center over the life cycle of a UPS system.   Additionally, it is important to assess the cooling needs of a UPS system before installing.  While a small gain in UPS efficiency may yield savings, those savings could be quickly drained by a system that requires a substantial amount of cooling when compared with another UPS system.  Finally, it is wise to look at the maintenance and component requirements of the UPS system as these two things will add considerable cost to the cost of ownership.  Some UPS batteries may need to be checked multiple times per year while others may only need to be checked annually thus saving maintenance time.  Data Center Knowledge elaborates on how maintenance costs influence TCO, ” For example, does the UPS topology have sufficient redundancy that allows a single UPS unit to be taken off-line for maintenance or evaluation, or does the entire power plant need to shut down while maintenance or repair is performed? Even scheduled maintenance has an effect on uptime, data and processing transfer time and costs, including labor costs. Scheduled battery replacement is probably the major OpEx cost of a UPS, representing a significant part of a maintenance budget. If TCO is a critical evaluation factor, then understanding which battery technologies can extend the life cycle of a UPS becomes important. The same is true for remote UPS monitoring systems that improve battery life, maintenance and upgrade strategies.”  Finally, do not forget to factor in the end-of-service costs that come with ending the use of a particular UPS system and changing infrastructure as a result.  There are many metrics available for calculating data center UPS Total Cost of Ownership so that you can have a full picture of a UPS system before deploying it in your data center.

 

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Implementing a Large UPS in a Data Center

Advanced PDUImplementing an Uninterruptible Power Supply system in any data center, of any size, faces challenges and potential pitfalls.  While the end game of installing a UPS system in a data center is added protection against power failures, choosing the right UPS and implementing it can be fraught with problems.  This is true in any size facility center but in large locations with large installations, the problems compound and increase.

One of the first areas that can be challenging is choosing the right Uninterruptible Power Supply system for a large scale application.  With increased power demands and more complicated infrastructure, the more performance ability and capacity a UPS system must have.  Modular systems can be helpful as the offer scalability as needs change.  Because implementing a large scale UPS system can present challenges, it is best to walk through the entire facility to ensure the proper infrastructure is in place before any system goes live.  The more due diligence you do, the less likely there will be errors in choosing the appropriate UPS, components such as batteries, or anything else.  Each problem encountered not only wastes times and slows the process down but can also be quite costly.  Additionally, it is wise to examine the data center to make sure necessary items, such as proper amount of electrical outlets, are in place before you order your backup power system and attempt to implement it because the last thing you want to do is overload it and create more problems than solve them.  Many data centers with high capacity and big demands may consider implementing a large-scale parallel UPS system for increased redundancy and protection.  Through the use of a PDU (power distribution unit), and a communications cable, parallel systems in tandem to support critical data loads so that, should a problem occur in one system, the parallel system can support the load in the interim.  In addition to systems working parallel for redundancy, UPS systems can be connected together so that their combined power supports the demand in a team effort of sorts.  This cannot be done by combining any backup power supply systems that you can get your hands on but, rather, manufacturers create systems capable of being configured to work together.  Finally, the location that experiences success when implementing (or terminating) anything on a large scale does so not by happenstance but with careful planning and consideration.  In the end, the most important thing is to protect uptime and mission critical information.  Make a plan for implementation or termination of your data center UPS system, ensure that batteries are properly functioning, make sure everyone is on the same page and then execute the plan, being sure to have a backup plan in place in case anything should go wrong.  After all, data centers know that redundancy is often the key to success.

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Improving Data Center CRAC/CRAH Energy Efficiency

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Every business in the world can benefit from improving energy efficiency and data centers are certainly no exception.  If anything, data centers are the prime example of the importance of a constant effort to improve energy efficiency. Energy usage is very costly and energy waste is bad for the environment so every measure to increase efficiency in a real and sustainable way is a significant improvement.  One area to target when improving energy efficiency in just about any facility is the Computer Room Air Conditioner/Computer Room Air Handler (CRAC/CRAH) units.  There are a lot of theories and strategies when it comes to proper cooling.  The focus always has to be twofold: to improve energy efficiency while still maximizing uptime in a mission critical facility so that it can perform its vital task to the best of its ability.  Uptime cannot be sacrificed in the name of efficiency so a way to improve efficiency must work within those parameters.

With new technology that is constantly evolving, the two goals and focuses: maximizing efficiency while maximizing uptime do not have to be mutually exclusive.  Whether you are making improvements to a legacy center or maximizing efficiency in a new data center build, there are always ways to make improvements.  One of the most effective ways to make improvements when it comes to the efficiency of a data center’s CRAC/CRAH is to properly implement hot and cold containment systems such as a hot aisle/cold aisle layout.  Data Center Knowledge discusses the importance of keeping hot air and cold air separate in a data center, “Air mixing is the enemy of effective cooling. In-row or close-coupled cooling solutions greatly reduce air mixing by closely coupling the IT equipment’s hot air discharge with the CRAC/CRAH’s hot air return and the CRAC/CRAH’s cold air supply with the IT equipment’s inlet. Additionally, close-coupled CRAC/CRAH units have the capability of varying their airflow, thereby balancing their supply CFM commensurate with the CFM requirements of the IT equipment using either temperature and/or pressure as a control. Air mixing can further be reduced by implementing partial hot-aisle containment by deploying air containment curtains and/or doors at the ends of each “hot” aisle.”  Additionally, evaluate what the ideal temperature is to maintain efficiency without compromising efficiency.  While traditional school of thought is to keep a facility as cool as possible, by maintaining a temperature of even a degree warmer may still keep all infrastructure functioning properly but can dramatically improve efficiency.  Lastly, if improving efficiency in a legacy center, a hard look should be taken at mechanical systems.  Upgrading a CRAC/CRAH system is  a relatively economical option and may make a dramatic difference in cooling efficiency. Many CRAC systems can even be retrofit with Variable Frequency Drives (VFDs) that allow air conditioning units to work at different energy loads depending on the varied programming that has been predetermined for the data center.  This conserves energy during low demand times but still meets energy requirements at all times.  While there are many more ways to improve energy efficiency for CRAC/CRAH systems, the specific needs of a data center will determine what the best approach is but any energy efficiency improvements are a step in the right direction.

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How the Cloud Is Impacting Data Centers

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Cloud computing has impacted, and will continue to impact, the technology world as we know it.  The cloud is not only greatly impacting the way individuals utilize technology but the way data centers operate as well.  Data Center Knowledge explains the cloud revolution that is happening in data centers, “It’s important to quickly understand that cloud computing isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the proliferation of cloud computing and various cloud services is only continuing to grow. Recently, Gartner estimated that global spending on IaaS is expected to reach almost US$16.5 billion in 2015, an increase of 32.8 percent from 2014, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2014 to 2019 forecast at 29.1 percent. There is a very real digital shift happening for organizations and users utilizing cloud services. The digitization of the modern business has created a new type of reliance around cloud computing. However, it’s important to understand that the cloud isn’t just one platform. Rather, it’s an integrated system of various hardware, software and logical links working together to bring data to the end-user.”

With the new changes that are occurring in facilities from the cloud revolution it is no surprise that some data centers are still catching up to the technology and all that it entails.  Cloud computing has impacted everything from how we deploy applications, to how we deliver resources, to how we control users.  It helps to connect locations within networks and has greatly impacted the types of infrastructure we choose to deploy.  How a facility utilizes the cloud will impact what kind of UPS and back-up generator are utilized, what kind of cooling is needed, what security measures are deployed, the layout of a data center and much more.  Today, most facilities are implementing the cloud on some level and many new locations are simply starting out utilizing the cloud.  Data Center Knowledge explains why this is so and why more and more data centers will continue to implement cloud computing going forward, “Already we are seeing entire organizations be born within the cloud. As IT consumerization continues and more devices connect into a cloud service, it’ll be crucial to work with a partner that understands the big cloud picture. When creating your cloud infrastructure, planning around resource not only creates a more robust platform, it’ll also save your organization money. It’s time to better understand resource utilization within your cloud – and how you can align key cloud services with your organization’s goals.”

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Maintenance Key to Maximizing Battery Life

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Maintenance is the key to extending just about anything in life and data center UPS batteries are no exception.  When data center UPS batteries are neglected, what could be small and easily fixed problems, or completely preventable issues, grow and grow without notice until, one day, they become a problem.  Routine monitoring, coupled with appropriate maintenance are a combination that will not only help maximize uptime in your facility but can help prevent major disasters from happening.  How reliable your data center is depends on your UPS system, and how reliable that UPS system is depends on the quality of batteries and how well they have been maintained.  Without proper upkeep, a troublesome domino effect begins that will eventually become a major problem that would have likely been prevented with routine monitoring and upkeep.

Downtime is both frustrating and costly, with just seconds of downtime posing a major concern.  Data Center Knowledge points out why UPS battery maintenance should be made a priority, “Data center surveys have shown that anywhere between 65 percent to as high as 85 percent of unplanned downtime can be attributed to battery failure of some kind. This means your facility is almost certainly at the mercy of a room full of what basically remains 1800’s technology. It only takes a single unit failure within a string of lead acid batteries to make that entire string useless so it follows that even several strings of batteries need only have a few bad units scattered throughout it to render the entire emergency power system useless.”  The tricky part of data center battery upkeep is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will be successful.  Rather, each data center must assess the infrastructure in their specific data center, as well as demands and goals and develop a proper monitoring plan.  This can include automated monitoring with alarms but should not rely solely on it.  An effective plan will also include routine, visual battery inspections in person to ensure that you have the best knowledge with which to make decisions.  When figuring out what should be concerning and incite action with a battery, the individual battery and specific manufacturer instructions must be factored in.  Data Center Knowledge elaborates on this concept, “It would be much simpler if every battery had a one simple set of parameters however the reality is that these parameters vary from battery manufacturer and battery model. There are many considerations, from simple float voltage to the temperature compensated settings of the rectifier being used. The alarms can signal issues with string voltage, unit voltage, impedance, ambient temperature, unit temperature, ripple and record discharge. These alarm limits have different priorities, ranging from lower priority maintenance pointers to more immediate critical issues. So which are the important ones? All of them. If unsure, talk to the battery manufacturer about what limits to set alarms to.”  Through the implementation of an effective monitoring system, as well as proper routine maintenance, the life of a UPS battery in a data center can be dramatically extended, saving money and protecting a data center from downtime.

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Can a Data Center Operate With No UPS or Generator?

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When we discuss data centers it seems that a conversation about UPS (uninterruptible power supply) and generators go hand in hand.  Redundant power with a reliable UPS battery or backup generator have long been the standard approach to ensuring a facility  can maximize uptime and that a mission critical facility can fulfill the demand placed on it.  As often happens with data centers, many facility managers are keeping an eye on larger locations from companies like Google or Yahoo, ready to take cues from what works on such a large scale and implement them to better improve energy efficiency and make technological advancements.  Yahoo has moved towards centers that do not use such traditional protection but, rather, a network of facilities that can absorb the load should an outage occur.

This shift toward eliminating the use of Uninterruptible Power Supply and backup generators is unprecedented and may significantly improve energy efficiency if it is able to be successfully implemented.   Additionally, it will reduce the need for routine UPS maintenance or the use of UPS batteries.  Data Center Knowledge explains how a company like Yahoo is making forward-thinking changes to improve efficiency, “But Yahoo is considering going without UPS and generators for some future data center projects. It’s not alone in advocating design choices that represent a huge departure from current practice. A number of data center designers are urging clients to consider limiting UPS support to loads that are genuinely critical. Scott Noteboom, the head of data center operations at Yahoo, said in his keynote at last month’s 7×24 Exchange conference that the Internet portal is exploring scenarios in which it would build data centers without generators or UPS, and use its network to route around any power outages that occur at those facilities. That’s a strategy that only the largest data center providers can contemplate, as it requires multiple data centers in major network capacity. Google has pursued a similar strategy during maintenance on some of its data centers, shifting capacity to other facilities… Data center designer KC Mares of Megawatt Consulting says he urges customers to take a hard look at which IT functions are truly “always on” essential, and which systems can afford interruptions.”  While this may not be a realistic approach for smaller operations without a massive network, perhaps, some locations can dramatically reduce the usage of a UPS and backup generator.  Data Center Knowledge also points out that if complete elimination is not an option, many pioneers in the industry are shifting towards a making a decrease as well as why making this shift may have a significant upfront cost but actually will more than pay for itself over time, “Yahoo plans to invest at least $500 million in further expanding its data center infrastructure and shifting its operations to newer, highly-efficient infrastructure. The company is also preparing a new data center design for a series of next-generation facilities it plans to build in 2012 and beyond, in which much of the infrastructure will operate with minimal UPS and generator support. “We are in essence rewiring the entire infrastructure of Yahoo,” said Scott Noteboom, the head of data center operations at Yahoo. “We’ve gained approval to invest half a billion dollars to build new data centers. We’ll be migrating the entire footprint of Yahoo to these more efficient facilities”… “All this efficiency is cool,” said Noteboom, who announced the expansion Thursday at the DataCenterDynamics New York conference. “But we’re saving our company $200 million a year. At our scale, these (new data centers) have a three-year payback.”  What is being shown clearly is that more and more facilities are able to make a shift towards a reduced or completely eliminated use of UPS and generators.

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Why Data Centers Should Be Using Colored PDUs

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In a world where technology moves at a lightning pace and everything is becoming more and more advanced, sometimes, it is best to get back to basics.  Color coding could not possibly sound more “old school” or basic but that does not mean it isn’t an invaluable tool.  Downtime is the sworn enemy of every data center because it is frustrating and costly but, unfortunately, many data centers do experience downtime each year.  While focusing on improving things like uninterruptible power supply will help prevent downtime the fact of the matter is that a huge percentage of downtime is the result of human error.  Preventable human error.  By color coding your PDU you can help prevent human error and maximize uptime for the benefit of your data center and business.

Start by using separate colors to identify your A and B power feeds.  By doing this it makes working on your power supplies and in your racks easier not only for you but for technicians as well.  It will be a significant time saver by eliminating confusion and will also help prevent needless outages that lead to downtime.  In addition to clearly defining which power supply is which through color coding, you can also distinguish voltages.    For those looking to further optimize the use of color, facilities can even opt to “white out” their server racks and distribution cabinets because white is a reflective color and by using all white it will reduce a data center’s lighting needs dramatically. Raritan offers a variety of color coded products to make the switch as easy as possible.

How big of a difference will color coding really make?  Just imagine giving instructions to a technician and telling them to look for the red cord in the rack.  It is that simple.  No longer will they need to search and cross their fingers that they have selected the correct cord.  Only to realize that – oops – it actually was the wrong cord and caused an unexpected outage.  Color coding eliminates the guessing game which may not sound by much but Datacenter Knowledge points out just how significant it really is, “More than 90% of the data center operators responding to a recent survey reported that their data center had at least one unplanned outage in the past two years (Ponemon Institute)…The overwhelming majority of outages were attributed to human error.”  By color coding your PDU, routine maintenance and monitoring is no longer daunting and maintaining uptime is a much easier undertaking which is something every data center can appreciate.

 

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