Data Center Power: Ignore At Your Peril

Underlying all of IT's fancy servers, networking gear and other devices is the need for clean, reliable power.
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Underlying all of IT's fancy servers, networking gear and other devices is the need for clean, reliable power.

This basic foundation is often taken for granted and not sufficiently reviewed. As a result, IT may be forced to deal with excessive amounts of equipment failure, corrupted data and overall service-level issues. This topic will be covered in two articles. This first one will focus on some basic project elements that are needed; the second will cover issues for consideration.

As with any project, a basic plan is needed. This helps facilitate improved communications and better results. Within the basic project plan, the following task categories and suggestions are given for review:

Identify Stakeholders

Don't forget that other groups in your organization may be very familiar with power issues and be great resources to utilize. This includes groups such as facilities maintenance, manufacturing operations, manufacturing engineering, and so on. All parties who can significantly contribute to the solution or be impacted by the result should be considered a stakeholder.

Talk With The Utility

A good starting point is to contact your local power company and have a meeting with your customer representative. Topics to discuss include past outages, typical time to repair, highest risks and what their service levels are.

Ask for a map of the power grid in your area to understand what heavy users are on your segment. Point blank, ask the representative what risks you should prepare for. What are the longest outages on average? What other issues are common in the area in terms of spikes, sags, harmonics, etc. Then, ask how the power company can help. There are things they will do for free and others for a fee.

Site Survey

Either through the power company, or a consultant, install a power line monitor to collect data about spikes, sags, harmonics and so on. The duration of the survey should be based on a combination of what the IT team suspects and external recommendations. If a foundry is next door and they turn the furnaces on at 6 a.m. and off at 6 p.m., then be sure to monitor the lines during those times. This is predicated on you understanding the power grid you are on and who you share the line with.


Talk to IT, manufacturing, management and other organizations in your area to understand what they have experienced and avenues they have taken to deal with risks associated with the power. Move beyond IT to better leverage the experiences of others both in terms of the state of power quality as well as potential solutions that they employed.

Analyze the Results

Take the results of the utility meeting, site survey and interviews and review them with the IT team to understand threats and see what possible compensating solutions the team can come up with. Having good representation from people who understand issues surrounding power quality can be very beneficial. Objective third-party consultants can be very helpful in terms of the unbiased recommendations that they can offer.

Develop a List of Requirements

The next step is to generate a list of requirements for power to the data center. This is shaped, in part, by service level commitments, power consumption, planned expansion, sensitivity of the electronics to power quality, etc. Armed with a list of requirements, it is time to open talks with vendors.

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