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Does your data center need a smart PDU?

A smart PDU can help you monitor and manage power flow more efficiently than a traditional PDU. Here's what you should consider before deciding whether to adopt.

Power hardware for the data center provides admins with increased insight and management capabilities as it evolves. Smart power distribution units can optimize power management in data centers, but to choose the right PDU for your organization, you must consider your specific requirements.

The traditional PDU is a power in, power out distribution device typically mounted on the floor or rack near the devices it powers in the data center. It offers little to no data monitoring beyond power usage effectiveness (PUE) calculations and simple switching options. A smart PDU can monitor, manage and control power consumption throughout the data center, making it a sensible choice for many data centers.

What is a smart PDU?

The smart PDU goes beyond the power distribution capabilities of the traditional PDU. It connects to a data center's IT network, which enables admins to monitor power flow to various hardware and devices via data center management systems and software applications.

Monitored smart PDUs track outlet levels, the device's environment, event logs and data logs. These devices send alerts based on user-defined thresholds. Switched smart PDUs do everything that monitored smart PDUs do, but also enable you to control individual power receptacles on connected devices remotely, which in turn gives you more granular control over your devices, even from a distance.

What makes a PDU smart?

Like other smart devices, a smart PDU's main characteristic is its remote accessibility and control. Usually the device vendor provides this remote access; otherwise, you can integrate it with your larger data center monitoring system.

A smart PDU makes monitoring power consumption remotely easier because it connects multiple devices across locations to provide you with immediate access. It can often gather and send power usage data automatically to integrated systems for more insight into your data centers' power consumption. It can also use this data to shift power and cooling resources to meet increased workloads, discover devices' specific PUE rates or proactively plan for the replacement of inefficient devices.

Other characteristics of smart PDUs include:

  • IP aggregation capabilities to reduce the need for additional switch ports;
  • environmental monitoring for the PDU's rack;
  • out-of-band communication options in case the primary network to the PDU goes down;
  • unit- and outlet-level remote monitoring and control options to give you finer control of connected devices; and
  • remote reboot options for connected devices to increase runtime of critical equipment.

Key considerations when selecting a smart PDU

Smart PDUs provide precise monitoring and control of your data center's energy consumption and can ensure your data center's reliability, functionality and adaptability. However, to select the right smart PDU, consider several key factors before making your choice.

Reliability. The more features packed into technology, the more problems it can have, so choose a smart PDU from a manufacturer that focuses on quality and reliability. Not all manufacturers test 100% of the units that they ship to customers, which could leave you with a PDU that has core function problems. Identify manufacturers that test every unit they ship and perform effective reliability testing as part of their quality assurance.

Requirements and goals. Most vendors offer a variety of PDU options, including smart PDUs. Each PDU addresses different power challenges, so define your organization's specific challenges before selecting a PDU. For example, if you have a large data center footprint at a heavily staffed location, you should focus on keeping costs down and saving physical space, which means a basic PDU can suit your needs. However, if you have the same footprint at a facility managed by a remote managed services provider, a smart PDU can save you money by cutting down on manual power restoration to your devices. Take a look at the devices you power and monitor, where they're located and what maintenance and support they require.

Temperature resistance. Data centers can get hot. Some facilities might try to save on cooling costs by raising the temperature, which means certain PDUs can end up working in temperature ranges for which they weren't designed. Verify your chosen PDU's temperature range to ensure it works for your geographic location and data center facility. You might require a higher grade smart PDU to ensure it remains available for service in higher temperatures.

Adaptability and scalability. Most data centers work with high-density racking and smaller devices that enable a greater number of them in smaller spaces. This leads to lower facility costs -- as they have a smaller footprint -- but demands greater efficiency and control of each device for optimal performance. Upgradeable smart PDUs have greater flexibility than basic PDUs, which enables you to future-proof your data center. They can adapt to changing business needs without wholesale replacements or power interruptions and can upgrade to accommodate new technologies.

Security. Because smart PDUs connect to your corporate network, make cybersecurity a priority. Start by encrypting any data transmitted to and from the PDU to secure both the PDUs and the networks they transmit data. Next, implement role-based access controls to protect the PDUs themselves, the firewalls they sit behind and any other connected system. Smart PDUs should have their own cybersecurity protections in place, such as embedded firewalls that protect against DDoS attacks, login credential limits for multiple clients and timing out of inactive sessions to prevent unauthorized access.

Also consider physical security of your smart PDUs, because a power loss can decrease the functionality of your entire network. Some smart PDUs have outlet locking mechanisms that secure the plugs to the PDU and ensure no one can pull them out accidentally.

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