PDUs rack up intelligence and global penetration

Recent market analysis shows that rack PDUs are the fastest growing product group, and intelligent units are growing faster than other types.

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From the March, 2015 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

Recent market analysis shows that rack PDUs are the fastest growing product group, and intelligent units are growing faster than other types.

A recently published market-analysis report from IHS, titled "Rack Power Distribution Units - 2015" indicates that the higher-priced rack PDU products are the fastest-growing segment of that market. The report's analysis also explains why intelligent units are experiencing relatively brisk uptake.

"Global revenue from rack PDUs is forecast to grow 5.6 percent in 2015," IHS said. "This is twice as fast as the forecast unit shipment growth, highlighting the continued shift toward high-priced rack PDU products. The shift occurs for several reasons. The growth of intelligent products, for example, is driven by the need to monitor power usage, report efficiency metrics, decrease power use in the data center, and enable capacity planning."

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According to research conducted by IHS, the rack PDU market's 4.7-percent revenue growth rate in 2014 put it ahead of these other data center infrastructure product groups. Uninterruptible power supplies were the only product group to recede in 2014.

In 2014, the firm says, intelligent rack PDUs accounted for 19 percent of unit shipments globally and 58 percent of revenue. They are forecast to grow more than twice as fast as non-intelligent rack PDUs. IHS analyst Sarah McElroy, who authored the report, commented, "While regions of the world are at different stages in the adoption of higher-priced product types, we do see an overall trend globally toward rack PDUs with intelligent features such as metering and switching and PDUs with higher power ratings. The Middle East is an interesting market to keep an eye on because it is an emerging market for intelligent rack PDUs and has been adopting them faster than other developing regions."

The IHS report also includes detail on the adoption of higher-voltage power architectures, as McElroy referred to in her comments. IHS explained, "Some data centers in North America have begun deploying higher-voltage power architectures. Because of the lower standard voltages in the Americas, this region has transitioned from single-phase rack PDUs to three-phase rack PDUs sooner than other regions. Traditionally, North American three-phase power is 208 VAC whereas European three-phase is 400 VAC. However, new statistics from this study show that there has been some adoption of 400 VAC rack PDUs in North America, where they accounted for more than 5 percent of revenues in 2014."

Data centers have begun adopting 400 VAC because it reduces the number of electrical drops, IHS said, they can lead to electrical and infrastructure savings, and they contribute to overall efficiency increase. "While the efficiencies gained aren't enough to justify retrofitting an existing facility with a new power architecture, adoption has been seen in new large data centers," IHS noted. "The fact that some legacy or specialized data center equipment cannot be powered in 400/240 VAC scheme and would require additional step-downs is a barrier to adoption."

McElroy added, "The more granular data on three-phase rack PDUs in the report this year will allow us to better understand and track this trend going forward. We anticipate seeing an uptick in the adoption of three-phase 400 VAC rack PDUs if new data center buildouts continue to pursue the higher-voltage power architecture."

Building on intelligence

As CommScope senior vice president Kevin St. Cyr recently commented about data centers, "Every dollar they save on power can be used toward another server." (See executive interview with St. Cyr on page 5.) The ability to compute-the need for bandwidth-is the data center's constant craving. The ability to monitor a facility's power usage, and to do so as granularly as possible, has become increasingly important.

Many technologies exist to enable power-use monitoring, but we will focus briefly here on one technology in particular-Universal Electric Corporation's (UEC; www.uecorp.com) Starline Track Busway Critical Power Monitor. As Universal Electric explains, "The Starline Critical Power Monitor (CPM) offers an enhanced monitoring package that will allow you to monitor, integrate and display more data center power information easily and reliability. [It] is uniquely designed to provide the functionality required for busway applications for both end-feed and branch-circuit applications, and is calibrated to meet ANSI Revenue Grade Standards for power usage.

"With a variety of communications options standard, via wired Ethernet and Modbus, the CPM offers seamless integration with BMS [building management system] and DCIM [data center infrastructure management] packages. An optional 802.11n WiFi version is also available."

In February software developer Tier44 Technologies (www.tier44.com) announced that the latest update to its data center monitoring solution EM/5 offers direct integration of all Starline brand power meters including the CPM. "With the data center/mission critical market's growing need for energy efficiency, energy monitoring systems are more important than ever," Universal Electric said when it announced this integration capability. "This is the reason Universal Electric decided to create the Starline CPM. This device has an enhanced monitoring package that will enable the monitoring, integration and displaying of more data center power information easily and reliably ... Tier44's EM/5 combined with the Starline CPM will make it easy for data center operators to get continuous metrics across the data center wherever Starline Track Busway is installed. Alerts, phase balancing details and trending information along with the correlation of power consumption at the busway with racks and IT equipment are essential to maximize the capacity of the IT infrastructure without risk of circuit overloads."

Universal Electric's director of marketing, Mark Swift, commented, "This is a great extension for our products, having an integrated monitoring system already validated for our end users. By providing the ability to see power consumption across the full power tree, and correlating it with IT equipment utilization, you can better understand the true power footprint of your data center environment. These tools provide the means to accomplish this necessary task."

Pursuing higher power

IHS's analysis of the PDU market also included insight into the use of higher-voltage power architectures in North America. A concise look at the benefits of deploying such systems exists in the white paper "Deploying high power to IT equipment racks," authored by Raritan (www.raritan.com). The comments by IHS echo the points made in Raritan's document, which goes into some level of technical detail about the electrical-engineering principles that make high-power deployment efficient where it is practical.

In summing up the white paper's points, Raritan says, "Whether you operate a large, a medium or even a small data center, it may be time for you to consider deploying high power to at least some of your racks. Good candidates are racks that will be packed with 1U servers, racks with blade servers and racks with data center networks or storage devices. Moving to higher voltages, whether single phase or three phase, reduces transmission losses, which leads to energy savings. Higher voltages, especially when deployed as three-phase power, are a good way to increase rack power capacity without adding to cable clutter and blocking cooling air in under-floor plenums. High power racks, coupled with in-row or overhead local cooling, also eliminate the energy waste from moving air across the room because cooling is now localized.

"There are several high-power alternatives from which to choose," Raritan says, and includes a handful of examples in the paper. "The best alternative for you depends on your current situation and plans for the future. But high-power deployments, even three-phase 400V, are becoming more common and accepted and should be on your short list of deployment options."

Rack PDUs in the lead

The 5.6-percent revenue growth projection for rack PDUs in 2015 puts it ahead of other data center product and technology categories that IHS tracks (see figure on page 24 for 2014 data). The analyst explained, "The growth of the rack PDU market is typically stronger than the growth of other data center infrastructure products like rack enclosures, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), and cooling equipment. In 2014, UPS market revenue fell by 2.2 percent. Revenue from the cooling market and rack/enclosure market grew by 2.4 percent and 3.6 percent, respectively. However, the rack PDU market saw more growth, increasing in revenue by an estimated 4.7 percent in 2014."

IHS added that it believes rising power densities and the need to reduce electricity costs drive the sale of intelligent rack PDUs, "which not only increase average unit prices, and therefore total revenue growth, but also drive replacement rates as customers replace older basic units with new intelligent ones. There are greater efficiencies to be gained by replacing rack PDUs with newer technology," IHS emphasizes, "In contrast, most other data center infrastructure equipment is not replaced nearly as often and is therefore largely dependent on new data center construction."

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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