Data Center Power Explained: 5 Things You Should Know

data center power usage explained powering servers energy requirement electrical needs

Data centers work relentlessly to keep business systems up and running.

The only problem is they can be a huge energy vampire and eat away at your budget. Any kind of inefficiency adds fuel to the fire and hurts your growth.

To steer clear of this pitfall, you have to understand data center power requirements, as well as ways of measuring and deploying energy. Yes, we mean being aware of what all those amps, volts, watts, and ohms stand for.  

The good news is you don’t need to have an engineering or science background to get on top of power management practices. We’ll explain everything in laymen’s terms.

This guide should empower your organization to sustain efficiency, continuity, and security.


1. Equipment Size and Number Matter

Servers harness a certain amount of electricity to run properly.

Their number and size have a profound impact on energy consumption patterns. They determine, for instance, rack deployment and how many power distribution units (PDUs) you need.

These units contain multiple outlets and can support a range of equipment. They essentially distribute power throughout the center. You can mount them vertically and horizontally to accommodate various racks of equipment.

More powerful servers call for higher rack density and heavier distribution equipment. They send more watts through the units and demand larger circuits. On top of that, deployments of higher density ramp up cooling requirements and incur additional costs.

Apart from servers, data centers also harbor other systems that form the IT infrastructure. The list can include environmental controls, security alarms, cooling, ventilation, inverters, etc. Then, you also have to take into account emergency and backup power systems.

If you're interested in backup power systems, you can see more here.


2. Getting the Basic Design Right Is Tricky

Considering a wide array of moving parts, designing the data center can be a daunting task.

First off, you have to arrange the physical infrastructure, paying special attention to key components like PDUs. We’re going to mention them in a bit more detail in a section on efficiency.

Secondly, it’s necessary to consider there two main types of power. We’re talking about direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC) power.

Collocation centers mostly rely on AC, which is called “traditional” or “default” power. It operates at 120 or 240 volts and can change direction (quality expressed in Hertz or Hz).

On the other hand, we have a growing number of centers tapping into DC. This current is constant and doesn’t shift directions like AC. We typically associate it with batteries and other forms of stored power.

There are pros and cons associated with both of these options, as well as their combination. When making a call, you should weigh them, focusing on energy efficiency, reliability, and downtime.


3. Power Efficiency Remains Crucial

Power efficiency must sit at the top of the list of priorities.

The idea behind it is simple. You need to deploy the optimal equipment that meets your energy needs and do it as efficiently as possible. Wasted space and power are to be avoided at all costs.

One of the main objectives should be to maximize the power usage effectiveness (PUE) score. This value is expressed as a ratio of total available vs. the power that actually gets used by equipment. New centers should aim for 1.5 PUE or less.

To pull this off in practice, you can ponder a variety of measures.

For example, improve the score by optimizing cooling requirements. Implement smart lighting systems to prevent unnecessary costs when nobody is in the office. Purchase advanced analytics platforms to analyze and fine-tune consumption patterns.

Finally, there are some new trends to keep an eye on, such as cold aisle containment and artificial intelligence (AI).


4. You Have to Accurately Assess Your Needs

To make educated decisions, factor in not just your current but also future needs.

Some physical elements (like PDUs) last much longer than servers. You don’t want to grow out of your power center design and spend a small fortune to make upgrades.

Efficient scaling and a bit of forethought keep these problems at bay and protect your budget.

So, establish exactly how much rack space you need. In other words, calculate what the area that server and other hardware occupy is. A standard measurement is a rack unit, which equals 1 ¾ inch.

You want to get creative in order to accomplish substantial space savings without compromising security.

One nice trick is to ensure your PDUs are versatile and compatible with various styles and sizes of plugs. That way, you account for various hardware deployments that could come down the road.

While at it, figure out what type of PDU is most suited for your data center. You can choose between basic, metered, monitored, and switched PDU.


5. Estimating Electricity Requirements Is a Must

The next order of business is calculating power needs as measured in kilowatts (kW).

There is more than one formula you can utilize here. The most common one is adding up the total required watts to the total amount of power hardware consumes.

Simply check the nameplates on servers. Convert the watts to kilowatts by dividing the former by 1,000. Then, multiply that figure by the number of hours you expect your data center to work.

The end figure tells you how much power the center will eat up in a billing cycle. Namely, it’s a rough estimate for kW hours, which you have to apply to local electrical rates.

Note that it’s possible you’ll overestimate total power requirements. Small deviations aren’t a problem, but you can use tools like wattmeters to iron them out.

And there is no hard rule when it comes to how much kW hours should your center consumes. As we’ve indicated, this depends on a host of different factors. While some centers are as small as cabinets, others are huge, high-tech warehouses.


Master the Data Center Power Management 

Data centers are backbones of modern business operations.

Electricity is its invisible, unsung hero you can’t afford to overlook.  Therefore, make sure you know the ins and outs of data center power requirements. Grasp the role of power and how the design of the center affects its deployment.

Once that is sorted out, assess your needs based on the servers and systems you maintain. Try not to use more power than needed— prioritize efficiency to achieve substantial cost and energy savings. It’s time to optimize your IT environment and future-proof it.

Check out our latest guides and trending topics to arm yourself with even more insights. Visit the Tech section of the Bootstrap Business Blog to learn more about data center power, servers, and equipment needed for your company to succeed.

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