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Data center power terms to give your vocab a jolt

No matter the data center setup, there are standardized power components and protocols you should know. Build your understanding -- or refresh your knowledge -- with these terms.

Electric power is the No. 1 necessity to get an organization's infrastructure online -- and its biggest expense. To help regulate power consumption across servers and network components, admins can use specific hardware, software and management methods.

Even with the large number of devices in a data center, there are a few main power components for admins to know. Here's a look at the main data center power devices and best practices to implement.

Uninterruptible power supply

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) helps keep data center infrastructure online when the primary power source goes down and protects against power surges. This device converts alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC) through a rectifier and turns it back to the data center through a converter.

Before power fails, the UPS gives admins a warning so they have time to save any data before it goes offline. Once the primary power source powers down, the UPS relies on batteries to drive the inverter and power any attached infrastructure.

A UPS is different from a backup generator, which brings several advantages:

  • better support of critical instruments and infrastructure;
  • cheaper maintenance costs;
  • minimal time to switch from a downed primary power source to a UPS; and
  • a variety of options for UPS size and amount of available power.

Even with these advantages, admins should still be aware that a UPS may require specialized installation and specific battery types. A UPS is not a substitute for regular data center power units.

Power distribution unit

There are a several types of power distribution units (PDUs), which are devices that control electrical power in the data center. The most basic offering is a large power strip without surge protection, which provides electrical outlets for any necessary equipment.

For more sophisticated PDUs, admins can use rack-mounted or floor-mounted options that can collect data center power consumption data and remote access capabilities. The type of devices a PDU powers depends on the form factor.

A floor-mounted PDU often serves as a main distribution unit and is a conduit between the facility's primary power and equipment racks. These PDUs are designed to handle more power than standard power strips and often support multiple equipment racks.

Rack-mounted PDUs sit directly in an equipment rack to power servers and switches. This PDU type also helps balance power loads. Depending on the sophistication of a rack-mounted PDU, admins can use remote management tools to adjust power demands and track power usage effectiveness data.

Emergency power off button

An emergency power off (EPO) button is a switch or panel that safely disconnects electrical power to specific equipment, server rack or a whole facility in the event of an emergency. It is often used in manufacturing plants, telecommunications facilities and data centers.

The idea of an EPO is to give admins a way to safely shut down data center power from a central point of contact, limiting damage during a disaster and increasing personnel safety. Requirements for an EPO button's placement, accessibility and size are up to local jurisdiction and legislation.

Regardless of placement, the EPO button should be in a clear, lift-cover box and visibly marked to avoid accidental activation.

Power cycling

Power cycling is a process where admins turn hardware off and then turn it on again. This action helps test the reliability and durability of network components, as most servers can run months or years without a reboot.

Doing regular power cycling tests helps technicians and admins identify any potential hardware issues that a hard restart can cause. It also enables IT teams to test their disaster recovery and shutdown protocols. To effectively use power cycling, technicians can use remote systems management tools to shut down any processes, close any files or save any necessary data; doing so reduces the possibility of data loss or corruption.

After technicians shut off data center power, they should wait several seconds before they fully power the infrastructure back on to ensure a proper reset and that any storage drives are cleared before they come back online.

Intelligent power management

Intelligent power management is a combination of hardware and software to optimize the electrical power use and distribution in the data center. This type of management can involve some upfront cost and additional maintenance capabilities, which can bring organizations less downtime, lower electric bills and extended hardware life.

At a basic level, intelligent power management offerings include temperature monitoring and regulation, current limiting, load distribution and voltage regulation.

There are more advanced tools that can provide IT teams with centralized integrated power management to monitor all data center hardware. These products can also have tools for branch circuit protection, zoned cooling, smart load shedding, system redundancy to avoid operation interruptions and three-phase power.

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