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Software-defined power offers benefits, but lacks popular interest

Virtualized power systems promise to ease deployment and maintenance, but the market is still in its nascency.

By virtualizing power systems, organizations can gain flexibility, reduce maintenance and perhaps even make money by selling their excess power. However, the market for software-defined power is in an early stage of development; the products still lack a compelling business case.

As computer hardware becomes more complex it chews up more power. Consequently, many organizations struggle to manage their data center power and cooling systems because they are expensive, difficult to install, time consuming to maintain and are largely made up of proprietary components.

Software-defined power creates a software layer that runs on top of system hardware, abstracts its key functions and makes it easier for organizations to deploy, mix and match, and manage their data center energy systems. According to Uptime Institute, emerging software-defined power products typically collect energy consumption data from various sources, provide real-time or near-real-time pictures of energy usage, gather information from a variety of distributed devices and produce analytic reports.

Software-defined power offers improvements in virtualization

When using software-defined power, organizations reduce utility costs by treating power as a virtual resource, which they manage through a control plane. Organizations can consume, store, control, cap and sell power depending on policies and service levels, according to Uptime Institute.

Software-defined power introduces improvements
to data center power

Read Uptime Institute's full report "Innovations in Data Center Power: Software-Defined Power and Energy Optimization."

Organizations, ultimately, gain flexibility when using software-defined power. With traditional energy systems, organizations often find themselves locked into static configurations designed to meet demand at its highest. Virtualized power products are flexible and allocate power as needed.

Once organizations virtualize a system, they can take steps to maximize their return and minimize consumption. For example, organizations can collaborate with grid sources to interact and exchange data and power, use their servers to obtain real-time VM and application usage, manage power sources based on specified policies and thresholds, and implement power and switch sources to normalize power usage under a single management interface.

Better energy management means improvements in system performance.

Organizations, ultimately, gain flexibility when using software-defined power.

"Corporations gain the ability to reduce availability risks and outages, streamline IT management processes, and enable cost containment through automation and monitoring services," said Henrique Cecci, senior research director at Gartner.

Software-defined power challenges

Software-defined power also presents hurdles for organizations, and the challenges start with basic terminology.

"Software defined can be a nebulous concept," said Andy Lawrence, executive director of research at Uptime Institute.

The basic idea of software-defined power is using software to control power in a more effective way than in the past. Systems typically feature at least a basic level of intelligence and automation, but how organizations build, deploy, deliver and design each system's feature set varies significantly. Advanced Energy Industries, CE+T Power, CUI Inc., Schneider Electric and Virtual Power Systems are some of the vendors that deliver software-defined power products.

In addition, standards haven't emerged for how to build intelligent power systems.

"Software-defined power is one of the least mature areas of the software-defined data center," Cecci said. As a result, suppliers connect components in an ad hoc fashion via proprietary APIs. Suppliers must have a high degree of special integration skills to successfully build such systems. Otherwise, organizations become locked into the supplier's product, Cecci said.

In particular, data center managers have a long list of priorities and a short stack of cash.

"Cost-justifying movement to software-defined power has been difficult," Lawrence said. Vendors have been pushing software-defined power products for more than five years but have few high-profile customer success stories.

Popular interest in software-defined power is lacking

To date, the interest level in software-defined power is low, Cecci said. This is because data centers are the foundation for business operations, so organizations are often slow to embrace new technology that could knock their systems offline.

Organizations dabbling in software-defined power fall into a few buckets. Some organizations tinker with emerging technology in the hopes that it eventually provides them with a competitive edge. Colocation providers are another sector looking into software-defined power.

"Colocation companies may have more power than they need and want to sell the excess power," Lawrence said.

Software-defined power is an emerging market. Rather than the quick uptick seen with server virtualization and software-defined networking, virtualized power seems likely to make incremental advances into today's increasingly virtualized data center.

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