How color-coded PDUs simplify data center power management

How color-coded PDUs simplify data center power management

Color-coded PDUs are the answer for better power-feed identification.

As the need for flexible IT infrastructure becomes a business priority, data center management teams face a number of power-related challenges. For one, the average rack kW is rising because more data centers are transitioning to a high-density computing model. This has the long-term benefit of improving performance per wattage, but it doesn't change the fact that American businesses will pay $13 billion annually by 2020 to power data centers, according to estimates from the Natural Resource Defense Council.

Rising resource costs are only the tip of the iceberg. The most immediate challenge in the high-density data center is optimizing power distribution infrastructure to support significant power load and scalability at the same time. This demands nothing short of impeccable power-feed identification.

3-phase power puts new demands on PDUs

According to TechTarget contributor Robert McFarlane, too many data center managers mistake an overtaxed electrical phase as a sign that the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) needs to be replaced. In a three-phase power delivery setup, the more likely scenario, McFarlane says, is that power is not being evenly distributed between all three phases. 

There are a number of reasons this may happen. But at the most basic level, the problem could stem from technicians' inability to have an at-a-glance understanding of phase occupation at the PDU level. During scheduled maintenance, or in cases where equipment needs to be added or removed quickly to accommodate new IT requirements, misidentifying power feeds increases the chances that load will be unevenly distributed by phase.

"The cost of downtime is exorbitant."

In a worst-case scenario, too many PDUs may end up being connected to one supply feed. This could result in a short that causes a fairly widespread outage. Drilling down, the same can be said for individual PDUs. If a power strip is overloaded with power-dense devices, the consequence is a short with the potential to knock one or more cabinets offline. And, as you're about to find out, the cost of the ensuing downtime is exorbitant. 

The solution: Seeing the data center in color 

A deceptively simple solution to balance power distribution between the three phases is to label PDUs according to their supply feeds. Arguably, the most intuitive classification system is color-coding.

Here's how it works: