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What Kind of Power Distribution Unit (PDU) is Right for You?

Advanced PDUWhen it comes to data center design few things get more attention than power distribution.  Power distribution units (PDUs) must be carefully selected for any data center based on power usage needs, anticipated future needs and what level of intelligence you would prefer from your PDU.  Power distribution units can be quite simple and straightforward or they can be very sophisticated and intelligent with power metering, environmental monitoring within the data center and the ability to support very sophisticated and high powered systems.  Downtime is crippling and costly so it is critical that extreme attention is paid to selecting just the right power distribution units for your data center.

There are many kinds of PDUs available today including basic PDUs, metered PDUs, and switched PDUs.  A basic PDU is exactly as it sounds, a reliable power distribution source that sends power to multiple pieces of equipment within a network application.  While it may sound simple, it gets the job done and that is the most important thing.  However, if you need something with some more features, such as metering, a metered PDU may be ideal.  Metered PDUs still provide the same basic use but in addition it allows for better data center management because metering provides data center managers with information as to how much power is being used.  This is important for growing data centers because it will give data center managers a heads up when power supply is may be insufficient.  If power usage is going to exceed what the PDU is capable of data center managers will be able to remedy the problem ahead of time rather than potentially having to deal with downtime.  And, for added convenience, switched PDUs provide the same benefits bas basic PDUs and metered PDUs with the addition of being able to turn PDUs on and off remotely.  This is ideal for data center managers that oversee a large network of data centers.  They can turn PDUs off remotely without having to travel to the data center itself, saving time and money.  Also, smart or intelligent PDUs are similar to switched PDUs and are able to be managed remotely and from the web.  The type and size of PDU you choose will depend heavily on what specific equipment you have and what your needs are.  You may even deploy a variety of PDUs throughout your data center.  Be sure to continually assess your data center to ensure that your PDUs are sufficient for your needs to avoid downtime.

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Preventing Problems in Data Centers

Business loses power

When talking about data centers we tend to talk a lot about the importance of uptime and the measures to take to avoid dreaded downtime.  This is for good reason.  Clients and their employees and customers want uptime and downtime can lead to not only a lot of frustration but significant financial loss.  Data center managers must carefully assess the current needs of their data center as well as attempt to forecast future needs to properly prepare their data center and prevent downtime.  Good preparation is often the key to success.  Even if things in a data center are running relatively smoothly, downtime is minimal or non-existent and you feel pretty confident in how things are running.  But, it is usually soon after you start to get a little too comfortable and confident that vigilance begins to become less of a priority and problems arise.

To begin preventing problems in a data center, data center managers must have a firm grasp on exactly what infrastructure and equipment there is in the data center.  Additionally, they must understand current power and data usage.  By knowing this, and having a proper DCIM plan in place a data center manager will be ready to anticipate future needs.  When you assess your needs you will see if there is wasted power and be able to devise a plan to better use power.  Many data center problems are directly related power issues.  Server racks wasting power or not having an adequate backup supply of power in place.  In addition to taking a good preliminary assessment, it is important to schedule routine assessments often for your data center.  How often may depend on your specific data centers and its needs but it may need to be as often as once per year and as infrequent as every few years.  Routine assessment should check in on everything from infrastructure to the human side of data centers.  So often, when we think about data centers all we see are racks upon racks but there is still a human side to data centers and, in fact, human error can often be the source of a data center problem.  Data Center Knowledge points out just how significant a risk human error is in data centers, “But one of the leading causes of data center downtime is human error, as ComputerWorld reminds us in Stupid Data Center Tricks, which relays anecdotes of data center mishaps. The story notes a study by The Uptime Institute, which estimates that human error causes roughly 70 percent of the problems that plague data centers today.”  By identifying potential human error risks and dealing with them before they arise you will save yourself a lot of headaches.  Once you are in the habit of completing routine assessments you will begin to see patterns and be able to anticipate needs, make adjustments ahead of time and maximize uptime by minimizing data center problems.

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High Cost of Cooling Data Centers & How To Improve

googledatacenter1Just like a homeowner is familiar with the steady increase in utility bills during the hot summer months, so are data center managers.  Data centers use a lot of energy to maintain proper temperature and maximize uptime through properly running infrastructure.  The hot summer months make it more difficult to keep things cool without going bankrupt.  As we move into the fall and enjoy cooler temperatures, it is a good time to take a look back at the cooling measures  implemented in the data center and see what improvements can be made to make it as efficient as possible.

To begin identifying where improvements can be made you must first identify what exactly is using the most energy.  By determining, for instance, where hot spots are you can begin to see where cooling measures must be directed.  Rather than uniformly increasing or decreasing temperatures, seek first to locate and contain high temperatures.  What works best for a data center will depend on certain factors like data center size, infrastructure, and specific needs.  What works for many is to implement a hot aisle/cold aisle containment system or even a completely contained room.  By doing this you can direct cooling to the specific area you need it without wasting those efforts on areas that are not hot to begin with.

While this is a good starting point, to better manage a data center and adjust management strategy on a regular basis it is imperative that a data center implements continuous monitoring.  Without continuous monitoring, making adjustments will often be based on guess work.  With the help of continuous monitoring you can have real time data that shows what is happening so that you can make adjustments on a month by month, day by day, hour by hour and even minute by minute basis.  This will not only improve your ability to improve energy efficiency but also help prevent downtime.  Continuous monitoring will also allow you to begin to recognize patterns in the data center and anticipate what your data center can handle.  Armed with this information and a more targeted approach to cooling, you can operate comfortably at warmer temperatures – even one degree can have a significant impact on utility bills – and be able to make appropriate adjustments should they be needed.  By the time the temperatures begin to warm up again next year you will be well-seasoned at understanding what is happening in your data center and will be able to make informed decisions for how to better approach cooling during the hot summer months.

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Company Computer Room vs. Data Center

googledatacenter1

What is in a name? Data center, computer room, server room?  Most people probably think they are all basically the same thing.  The names seem interchangeable, right?  Wrong.  When a business is determining what is best to manage and facilitate their data it is important to distinguish between the common names and assess what is best.  For a long time, if a business was large enough, it was common to utilize the services of a data center rather than attempt to manage IT infrastructure in house.  This was for a variety of reasons but they often boiled down to three things: proper backup power, cooling ability and adequate space.  Many businesses simply did not have the ability to properly supply backup power to maximize uptime.  Additionally, due to the existing structure of their building, proper cooling was often a challenge and lastly, working with existing office space often meant that there was just not enough room to house IT infrastructure or outgrowth happened very quickly.  But, as happens very quickly with IT, technology changed.  As technology changed, needs shifted and it has left many businesses wondering what is better, an in-house computer room or an outsourced data center?

For small, and potentially even some medium size businesses, it may be possible to have an in-house computer room solution for managing and storing data.  But, this depends on a great many things.  For one, it depends heavily on the existing structure with which you have to work.  Does your office building have adequate space to house all of the necessary IT infrastructure, backup power and cooling systems?  If you are able to essentially shrink all of the components of a larger data center into a smaller computer room application to fit your businesses needs then it may be ideal to keep it in house.  After all, by bringing it in house some security threats could be avoided and IT budget may be easier to manage.  The problem is, many offices are not capable of accomplishing this and, barring moving your entire office to accommodate a new computer room, it is often more practical and ideal to outsource to a data center.  In addition to consider existing capabilities it is also important to consider future needs.  Do you anticipate a lot of growth for your business, additional data to manage or significantly increased IT infrastructure needs.  If so, do you have the room to manage more server racks or the ability to cool more dense server racks appropriately?  Finally, it is critical that you either have personnel capable of effectively managing your computer room and all of the moving parts that come along with that or are prepared to hire personnel that can do it.  For most, it is still ideal to opt for a data center over an in-house computer room to ensure data is secure, managed and properly backed up and to maximize uptime for your business.

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3 Reasons Data Centers Must Transform

DCIM

Change is inevitable.  And when it comes to technology, if there is one thing you can count on it is transformation.  Technology changes on what often seems like a daily basis and for data centers that must coordinate their infrastructure to optimally manage, store and protect data it can be a head-spinning ordeal.  Data center managers are tasked with knowing what is happening in their data center at all times, properly managing capacity, proper cooling, maximizing uptime and on top of just trying to maintain they must also anticipate needs so that problems can be avoided.  With so many moving parts it is no easy task.  But, inevitably data center managers cannot bury their heads in the sand and at some point, they must update and ultimately transform their data center to keep up with technological changes so that their data centers run properly and maximize efficiency.

One of the first things many data center managers may notice that begins to trigger the need for transformation is business growth.  Most businesses desire to grow over time and as they grow their data needs increase.  With more data, shifting technology that transforms the kind and amount of data and increased customers (and thus, stakes) many data centers have no choice but to transform themselves.  To keep up with growing demand and additional infrastructure to support growth data centers must adapt everything from physical space to rack density to cooling methods.  Second, another common trigger of data center transformation is the increasing important and pushed for demand to become more energy efficient.  Energy efficiency may sound like a buzzword at this point but every business wants to lower overhead and expenditures and IT budgets are often so significant that they are one of the first things to look at when hunting for potential budget cuts.  By increasing energy efficiency data centers can lower overhead expenses and help keep CFOs happy.  Third and finally, another thing that triggers data center transformation is compliance.   This can be to meet mandatory regulations or to meet the needs of shifting technological advances.  Technologies must be compliant to work with each other and if systems are outdated and can no longer run properly transformation must occur.  But, what many data centers are running into are federal mandates and regulations.  These restrictions and rules are in place for many reasons and if a data center is outdated or ha simply failed to meet regulations in the past they may now be facing a major overhaul in order to become compliant.  One thing is certain, no matter what the reason, as technology changes data centers will continue to transform in order to keep up and provide optimal service.

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The Great Debate: Tape or Disk Drive?

datacenter726

Tape drives for backup may have been a staple for decades but they are very quickly losing ground to disk storage.  While tape has been around for so long, it has evolved over time and still can play a valuable role in certain instances.  Tape drives offer a number of benefits, least of which is that it is less expensive than using disk backup.  Because tape and disk drives are used for backup it seems only logical to choose the least expensive method, right?  Well, it depends.  To be fair, we should fully examine all of tape’s benefits and drawbacks.  In addition to being the cheaper option, tape drives provide very high-capacity storage.  Tape systems are also more energy efficient tan disk options because disk drives remain on and running at all times, even if all the stored data has been logged.  With tape drives, once the data is stored it can be off and stored somewhere.  This means that not only will tape drives consume less energy and require less cooling but they are also less prone to problems and breaks.

While it may sound like tape drives are clearly winning over disk drives, tape drives certainly have their drawbacks.  If you need to retrieve data from your tape drive, be prepared for an arduous endeavor.  While the newest tape drives have improved their ability to recover data, older ones remain difficult.  And even still, tape drives are simply slower when retrieving data than disk drives.  When time is money and uptime needs to be maximized, every second for recovery counts.  Additionally, you cannot simply set a tape drive on a shelf and forget about it.  They must be maintained in a safe and dust free environment or they may run into issues of their own.

So, what advantages do disk drives provide over tape and are they better?  The debate rages on but to properly compare the two we must look at the advantages of disk drives.  One of the biggest advantages is rapid recovery of data.  Disk drives are often stored in house and very quick to recover necessary data so it is far faster than its tape counterpart.  But, because disk drives are stored in house and often remain running they take up more space and use more energy.  This means a greater overhead expense for businesses. But, the drawbacks exist for disk drives as well.  Disk drives cost more up front and cost more to maintain which can be a tricky thing to negotiate with your CFO when discussing IT budget.  Additionally, disk drives are more prone to a number of potential problems including breaking or overwriting and reformatting of data that could cause a lot of headaches.  How you store your data, what data you are storing and what your specific needs are for recovery will greatly determine what option is best for you.  No option is the clear winner, the debate will rage on, and the choice between disk and tape will remain a case-by-case unique decision.

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Importance of Updating UPS In Data Center Over Time

Business loses power

Loss of Power

For any data center, maintaining uptime in a world fraught with potential hazards that could cause downtime is the highest priority.  Today, most data centers try to take advantage of every possible option to ensure uptime is maximized in the event of a problem.  An emergency-proof UPS, along with adequate redundancy, can help significantly improve uptime.  But, in a world where even a few seconds of downtime can be extremely costly and problematic, even redundancy and a good UPS may still not be enough.  The problem lies in the rate at which technology evolves.  In most other industries, a backup plan or emergency supply can be determined once, maintained and executed should it ever be needed.  But, in the technology industry, what would have worked 6 months ago for your data center may now be outdated or insufficient.

A data center uses power 24/7 which means that its UPS system is also being tasked with maintaining power 24/7.  By reducing power usage and improving efficiency, even a small amount, it can significantly lighten the load of your UPS system.  Truly, any data center can probably benefit from improving energy efficiency for more than one reason but helping your UPS system is an important reason.  Data centers have a life cycle and rapidly change so it is important to constantly monitor and audit energy usage so that you can determine the best UPS system to ensure proper redundancy and power supply.  As more and more power is needed in a data center, UPSs are often added to provide power supply protection.  The thing is, UPS capacity is often not fully utilized so there is significant energy waste.  If your UPSs are becoming outdated and you are constantly adding more and more backup power supplies it may be time to consolidate them and upgrade them to better improve data center energy efficiency and provide better backup power protection for your data center.  It is always better to consolidate or upgrade your data center’s UPS before it fails, rather than after, because loss of data and uptime can be avoided.  Additionally, when consolidation or upgrades are made there is often a significant increase in efficiency for the data center which means that the investment will more than pay for itself very quickly.  While a full overhaul of your UPS may not be necessary, things will gradually begin to show their age and fail so the sooner you consolidate and upgrade, the better.  Don’t overtax your UPS and cross your fingers, make the changes before problems arise so that uptime can be maximized, which ultimately, is the most important thing to clients.

 

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Importance of Humidification System Inspection in a Data Center

cold-serverThe turn of seasons brings about many changes.  We adjust the thermostats in our homes and, similarly we must also control the environment in a data center.  But, it is not just about accommodating for the varying temperature and adjusting the thermostat.  In a data center, humidity must also be accommodated for to keep equipment functioning properly.  While temperature and cooling is often the focus, humidity control cannot be overlooked.  There is a range of acceptable humidity at which most data centers should maintain but if they stray outside the range, problems can ensue.

Data centers must constantly monitor the humidity level in its room.  When a data center is too humid condensation will inevitably show up.  If condensation happens on the many electrical components in a data center they could possibly short out.  Shorting out equipment = big problem for data centers.  Conversely, when humidity is too low ESD or electrostatic discharge, can occur.  And yes, it is as frightening as it sounds.  ESD emits a static electricity shock and when that happens in a data center it could shock electrical equipment so much that it shuts down completely.  The shock may even be so strong that it damages electrical equipment.  All of these scenarios lead to downtime in a data center and as any data center manager knows, downtime costs money and leads to a lot of frustration, even if downtime only lasts a moment.  For this reason it is critical that data centers implement a humidification system.  Once humidification systems are implemented it is critical that they are maintained on a regular basis to ensure that they are working year round.  Just like any other equipment in the data center, humidification systems can gradually wear down over time or encounter seasonal glitches, right as they are most needed.  An annual, or better yet, bi-annual check of the humidification system will help ensure that it is working when it is needed most so that mission critical data center equipment can be protected.  Humidity tends to decrease during the colder months and increase during the warmer months so appropriate adjustments for those seasonal changes can be made in advance.  40% humidity is around the recommended level of appropriate humidity for a data center but the acceptable range is much larger – between 20-80%.  Most experts say that maintaining closer to 40% is truly ideal, though, and that by doing so equipment will be better protected and the heating and cooling system will not need to work as hard to maintain appropriate temperatures.

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3 Signs It Is Time to Renovate Your Data Centers

UofA_2011_825kVA_Delivery_028-001It is the classic dilemma for data centers – move or renovate?  When technology moves a mile per minute and everything from applications to infrastructure is constantly evolving a data center must evolve along with it or it will find itself outdated, inefficient or in need of a move.   But, how do you know when it is time to renovate? It is important for data center managers to keep a good grasp on energy efficiency and infrastructure with a well functioning DCIM plan.  This way, data center managers will be ahead of the game and be able to anticipate major problems before they even arise.  Moving a data center is a major undertaking so watch out for the signs below and consider renovating your data center rather than moving.

 

Three Signs It Is Time to Renovate Your Data Center

  1. Technology Lag
    • Data centers are nothing if not technologically driven so if the technology in a data center is behind the times it is bound to create a variety of problems. From issues with application compatibility to infrastructure compatibility to all-around inefficiency a technology lag is a sure sign that it is time to renovate a data center.
  2. No Space
    • One of the biggest problems that any data center can run into is a lack of space. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.  You add a rack here or there, some more infrastructure and all the sudden you realize that you have run out of space or will very soon.  You are faced with the classic data center dilemma – renovate or move?  Moving is incredibly costly and tricky while also trying to maintain uptime.  So, rather than move, many data centers should consider renovating so that they can continue to use their existing location while increasing their usable space.
  3. Energy Bills Are Skyrocketing and So Is the Temperature
    • If you feel like you are walking on the surface of the sun while you walk around in your data center that is probably a big red flag. And, if this is happening you are probably noticing that energy consumption and thus, energy bills are increasing.  When you have not implemented proper heating and cooling techniques for your data center to ensure the most energy efficiency possible it is time to stop what you are doing and do so.  Data centers have a lot of server racks and server racks generate a lot of heat.  Without proper cooling solutions and energy management a data center will not run properly so the sooner you renovate to improve heating and cooling the better.
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How to Optimize Data Center Energy Efficiency

Advanced PDU Data center energy efficiency is at the forefront of hot topics for data centers.  And, for good reason.  Data centers use a truly astonishing amount of energy each year.  The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) noted just how much energy data centers use, “In 2013, U.S. data centers consumed an estimated 91 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, equivalent to the annual output of 34 large (500-megawatt) coal-fired power plants (and, the NRDC notes, the equivalent of enough electricity to power all the households in New York City twice over). Data center electricity consumption is projected to increase to roughly 140 billion kilowatt-hours annually by 2020, the equivalent annual output of 50 power plants, costing American businesses $13 billion annually in electricity bills and emitting nearly 100 million metric tons of carbon pollution per year.”  Improving energy efficiency in a data center is incredibly important but can seem like a daunting task for many data center managers who often are not even certain where to begin, if they have the budget to make changes, or if the changes they make will truly make an impact.

One of the first, and most practical ways to begin a shift towards improving energy efficiency is to take a real look at energy usage.  What is using the most energy, should it be using that much energy and can anything be eliminated?  Often, energy is being wasted on ghost infrastructure or outdated energy-draining equipment.  But, as many data center managers know, it can be difficult to keep track of all of the infrastructure in a data center or truly know what is using the most energy of inefficiently using energy.  That is why a good DCIM plan is important so that data center managers can work with the most current information rather than outdated information and make well-informed decisions going forward.  Once you have sufficiently audited data center energy usage and are able to make well-informed decisions for improvement you can move onto the next step.  Next, make immediate changes to improve energy efficiency while also looking at long term improvements.  Long term improvements are incredibly important and it is wise to look at how to remain sustainable in the future but while making decisions for the future you can make some immediate changes such as hot aisle/cold aisle arrangements or other containment options that may help improve energy efficiency.  While other improvements are more difficult or costly to implement, containment arrangements can be made and executed relatively quickly and will make a big impact.  While making immediate changes it is important to get budgetary approval for bigger changes and, once approved, begin moving forward with changes that will help your data center remain efficient in the future.  This most likely means upgrading equipment to the most current, energy efficient options.  All equipment has a lifespan and once they are getting a big old they will likely become energy inefficient.  If you have budgetary approval to make improvements with heating and cooling options as well it is a great choice to improve your cooling ability within a data center because cooling is typically one of the biggest expenses in a data center.  Lastly, explore green options like making a switch to more fully utilizing cloud storage or implementing cooling with outside air sources so that you can be as energy efficient as possible now and in the future.

 

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