Tom Banta

By: Tom Banta on February 27th, 2019

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4 Things You Need to Know About Data Center Power Requirements

Data Center Infrastructure

Today’s data centers consume huge amounts of power. Facilities-based in the United States alone consumed over 90 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 2017 and industry growth trends show no signs of slowing.

But what does that mean for data center customers?

For organizations colocating equipment in a carrier-neutral data center, power requirements mean quite a lot. They not only have an impact on pricing, but also can greatly affect IT deployments. Data center customers need to understand their own power needs in order to take advantage of the efficiencies offered by colocation facilities.

4 Things You Need to Know About Data Center Power Requirements

Basic Terminology

In order to really understand data center power requirements, it’s good to have a grasp on some basic terminology for electrical systems:

  • Amps: A measure of the actual electrical current (or electrons) moving through a power line. Devices have a rating based on the amount of amps they can use or support. A higher amp rating on a device means more power can be utilized before being overloaded.
  • Volts: Comparable to water pressure in a pipe, volts measure how much electromotive force is needed to push 1 amp through a wire or electrical conductor. Higher voltage allows more power to be transferred through a circuit.
  • Ohms: The resistance that slows electrical current and causes impediment. Keeping with the water analogy, changing ohms would be comparable to changing the size of the pipe. Lower ohms allow more current to travel through the circuit, but require higher voltage to push those additional amps through.
  • Watts: Wattage measures the electrical power available to be used by a device. Watts are often measured in kWh or MW. A typical server rack, for instance, requires about 7kW. High-power density racks require much more electricity, as much as 25 or even 40kW.

Power Distribution

Here’s where all that terminology comes in handy. When colocating with a data center, customers need to have an idea of how much power they’re going to consume. Depending upon how many amps the servers are using, this affects what power should be installed and how many power distribution units (PDUs) are needed.

Every rack deployment will have different power needs based on the servers it contains. Efficiency is a big consideration here, and every change in a deployment could have an impact on how the data center supplies power to the rack. Installing more powerful servers also increases the power density of the rack, requiring more wattage running through the unit and requiring bigger circuits to handle the additional power. Higher density deployments also need more cooling, which needs to be factored into overall colocation costs.

Colocation customers need to work closely with their data center to ensure that they’re deploying their equipment as efficiently as possible given their power needs. An inefficient deployment can lead to wasted power and space, not only raising existing costs but potentially constraining future growth.

Power Efficiency Practices

Data centers provide power to more than just servers. In fact, much of a data center’s power design accommodates systems that make its infrastructure possible. Air handlers/cooling/ventilation systems, lighting, environmental controls, fire suppression systems, security alarms, surveillance cameras, and sensors all take up a substantial amount of power. Uninterruptible power supply (UPS), emergency power systems, need to be charged as well.

Efficient data centers utilize a number of strategies to keep these costs as low as possible. From simple components like dimming or turning off the lights when no one is in a room to incorporating advanced analytics software into operations to better manage cooling demands based on usage trends, data centers can greatly improve their Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) scores. In past years, data centers often installed far more cooling capacity than they needed and distributed it very ineffectively. Innovations in efficiency practices like cold aisle containment have limited global data center power consumption growth to a mere 4% per year since 2010 despite the growing number of facilities.

Green Power and Sustainability

Data centers committed to sustainability have made great strides in diversifying their energy suppliers to incorporate the burgeoning green power industry. For organizations that have made a similar commitment to sustainable environmental practices, finding a data center that makes an effort to utilize renewable energy sources is very important.

While some facilities do incorporate direct forms of renewable energy, such as using ambient air to solar or geothermal power, market solutions like Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) are also practical ways for them to meet their green power needs. Since not every data center is in a position to buy green power directly, RECs and PPAs make it possible for them to support the production of renewable energy even when those energy sources are not available to them in their market.

Understanding the ins and outs of a data center’s power requirements can make it easier to evaluate which facilities have made a true commitment to efficient practices. The cost savings from these efficiency gains can be passed on directly to customers, giving them a major advantage over their less efficient competitors. Organizations should also be aware of their own power needs so they don’t end up over- or under-provisioning their colocated IT infrastructure.

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About Tom Banta

Tom is the Senior Vice President of Product Management & Development at vXchnge. Tom is responsible for the company’s product strategy and development.

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