What Is Power Monitoring and Why Does It Matter?

Power failure remains the number one cause of data center outages. And every year, the direct and indirect costs of such an incident climb higher. To avoid losing thousands of dollars and negatively impacting continuity, end-user productivity, equipment lifecycles, and other key business metrics, companies are gaining the system insight that comes with power monitoring.

Power monitoring is one of the keys to preventing unplanned downtime and the staggering costs that go with it. Beyond detecting power problems that could lead to outages, a power monitoring solution plays a starring role in other major data center challenges, namely improving energy efficiency and supporting better capacity planning. For data center managers charged with ensuring around-the-clock system availability, efficient operations, and a future-ready facility, power monitoring is an essential tool for protecting and optimizing the data center environment.

How does power monitoring work?

Many types of power monitoring solutions are available, from simple to comprehensive. While each offers different features and benefits, the ultimate purpose of power monitoring is to collect real-time data on power usage throughout a facility and make that data available to data center managers and decision makers in a usable format.

Power monitoring is achieved by using power monitors, sensors, and meters to monitor devices including uninterruptable power supply (UPS) units and power distribution units (PDUs). Utility feeds, generators, branch circuits, and other critical infrastructure can also be monitored. Modern UPS units and PDUs are often “smart” or “connected,” meaning they have built-in monitoring and communication capabilities and no additional sensors are needed. Legacy equipment, however, typically requires extra sensors. Depending on the type of power monitoring solution being deployed, you can monitor power at the facility, room, rack, or outlet level.

Power monitors, sensors, and meters, whether built-in or freestanding, work together with power monitoring software to provide data center mangers a wealth of information. Often, these solutions include alerting and trending capabilities to help data center staff better respond to immediate power problems, as well as identify solutions to improve overall power usage in their facilities. With power monitoring, data center managers can see:

  • How much power is being used at the data center level
  • What percentage of power is being consumed by each device
  • How power is distributed in the data center
  • The available capacity of each power strip
  • Peak and non-peak power usage times
  • When and where power problems could be developing, including information about surges, lags, and minor temporary fluctuations, as well as variances from normal operating conditions

 

What are the advantages of power monitoring?  

The data and insights gleaned from power monitoring help data center managers make better decisions for safeguarding, optimizing, and future-proofing their critical facilities. When you monitor power, you will have the information you need to:

  • Ensure availability: Monitoring power and power usage keeps data center managers up to date on the status and health of critical power components, including the UPS, and allows them to quickly respond to any power anomalies that could jeopardize the availability of critical systems. Power monitoring also helps operators understand capacity, develop an accurate load profile for equipment, keep loads balanced, and proactively manage allocation. All of this helps decrease unintentional power overloads and ensures equipment operates as it should without any power-related issues.

  • Improve efficiency: Power monitoring shines a spotlight on power inefficiencies, including sources of needless power consumption, allowing data center managers to take action and implement better practices for improved efficiency. Information collected from the UPS and PDU also allows an operator to compare the power output of the PDU to that of the UPS and quantify the power (kilowatts) lost in distribution and transformation. This can be the first step in identifying more efficient solutions.

  • Lower total cost of ownership: Beyond promoting energy efficiency, power monitoring provides information that helps operators proactively keep data center power infrastructure healthy. This prolongs equipment lifespan and decreases maintenance costs, both of which contribute to a lower total cost of equipment ownership.

  • Optimize and plan for capacity: With the right power infrastructure and power monitoring software, data center managers will be more aware of available capacity and capacity limits. They can better manage moves, adds, and changes over the life of the data center, fully utilize available power, and avoid overloading circuits or equipment. This information lets staff understand how adding additional equipment will affect power distribution, so they can more easily keep server loads balanced for the highest level of performance. Staff will also know when and how much additional power capacity is needed for the next phase of the facility, which helps expedite expansion planning.

  • Accurately allocate power usage: Power monitoring helps to effectively and accurately allocate power to different areas of the business or to different clients in a colocation facility. Many solutions offer power metering at 1% accuracy to facilitate accurate charge back. In addition, colocation providers and their customers can use the accurate data to verify that service level agreements are being met.

 

What are the critical features of a power monitoring solution?

Keeping tabs on power usage and power quality within the data center provides a wealth of valuable information that can improve different areas of your business. When you are choosing a power monitoring solution, it’s important to look for key features, including:

  • An easy-to-use interface: Data from critical infrastructure is only valuable if you can easily access it, quickly understand it, and use it to confidently make better business decisions. Power monitoring software solutions should have interactive interfaces that effectively visualize power performance metrics, allowing users to view status at a glance; switch between global, site, or device views; and drill down for additional information and details as needed.

  • User-configurable data organization: Power monitoring software that offers a user-configurable interface empowers users to build views and design dashboards that fit their unique needs. This should include the ability for users to select data organization methods that are meaningful to their unique roles and responsibilities.

  • Alarming: One of the key advantages of power monitoring is knowing when adverse conditions start to develop, so staff can take action before the problem leads to power loss and unexpected downtime. Power monitoring solutions should include alerting capabilities that notify staff members of surges, lags, fluctuations, and variances. Often, power monitoring solutions allow users to define thresholds for factors such as power capacity or percentage of use and then receive alerts when those thresholds are breached.

  • Event reporting: When power quality events or other power issues occur, having access to the details of the event can help you resolve issues quickly and prevent the same thing from happening again in the future. Some power monitoring solutions offer time-stamped records of variances outside of normal operating conditions, which allow for proactively managing potential issues within the data center.

  • Data trending, analysis and reporting: Power monitoring software that offers advanced analytics capabilities, along with automated and custom reporting can help you understand power trends over time, enabling proactive management of power devices. The reports can help data center managers see how power is being used at every level of the facility and can inform planning for changes and additions to equipment.

How do I select the right type of power monitoring solution for my environment?

Powering monitoring software solutions range from simple to sophisticated. The choice typically comes down to three considerations:

  • The critical nature of your facility
  • Your tolerance for downtime
  • Your budget

Obviously, mission-critical operations that cannot afford any amount of downtime are good candidates for the most advanced power monitoring options. However, simpler, more affordable solutions are also available for applications where budget is a defining factor.

From simplest to most advanced, effective power monitoring solutions include:

Sensors

  • What they provide: Sensors are a critical hardware component of the data center infrastructure that offer an easy way to gather data from existing basic power devices and supporting infrastructure that have no means of native communication. The monitoring equipment can be added to UPS units, PDUs, and other devices, using standard communication protocols such as SNMP.

  • Best for: Sensors are a good solution where legacy equipment is not enabled for monitoring and you need an affordable way to keep tabs on power consumption without upgrading the equipment.

  • Examples: Sensor solutions can be wired or wireless. While wired options like the Vertiv™ Geist™ Watchdog environmental monitors are great for static data centers that don’t require frequent equipment installations or removals, today’s dynamic environments often utilize wireless options for simplicity of deployment and integration. For example, the Vertiv™ Wireless Sensor Network can take installation from days to hours and provide improved reliability due to its ability to detect failing sensors prior to corrupt data being reported as valid.

Intelligent Rack Power Distribution Units (rPDUs)

  • What they provide: Intelligent rPDUs gather power data at the rack and device level. While rPDUs are primarily intended for cost-effective power distribution and to provide additional outlets for equipment, “smart” versions allow for remote monitoring and management of power data. These rPDUs typically use a web or network interface that allows data center staff to see and interact with the data they generate. Some include alerting capabilities that automatically notify staff when user-defined thresholds are breached. Usually, intelligent rPDUs do not offer trending or reporting capabilities.</p

  • Best for: Intelligent rPDUs are ideal for any critical facility where IT equipment is operating, from small data center and edge locations to large, hyperscale facilities. They are great at preventing accidental power overloads that could lead to downtime. They are also an important tool in capacity planning and helping data center staff install equipment in a balanced fashion.

  • Examples: Vertiv™ Geist™ offers a wide range of intelligent rPDUs including monitored and switched versions. These solutions easily integrate with data center infrastructure management systems to enable a view of the real-time power usage of individual IT equipment while allowing staff to remotely control power at the outlet level.

Data Center Monitoring Software Solutions

  • What they provide: Data center monitoring software comes with many features to help effectively monitor critical infrastructure. In addition to providing real-time data and device status — via an interactive and intuitive user interface with sophisticated data visualization — software solutions offer robust alarming capabilities along with historic trending and reporting functionality. The solutions also feature powerful and predictive analytics and other capacity planning tools. Power monitoring software allows users to see data from multiple devices in one view. Some solutions go beyond power to gather data from other areas and keep tabs on things like environmental conditions, giving data center operators a holistic view of all the critical data points collected within a data center.

  • Best for: Monitoring software solutions are suited to colocation facilities and enterprise data centers and are great choices for hyperscale, remote, and edge applications. These robust solutions are especially appropriate when there is a need to monitor a large number of rPDUs, UPS units, and other critical devices.

  • Examples: Within the category of data center monitoring software, some solutions are obviously more extensive than others. For example, Vertiv™ Environet™ is an enterprise-scale real-time data center monitoring software that offers all of the features mentioned above for our largest data center and colocation customers. The Vertiv™ Environet™ Alert offering is designed for small and medium-sized businesses that operate edge sites or remote offices. Environet Alert provides critical facility monitoring, alerting, trending, and data organization in a more affordably-priced, easy-to-use solution.

Protect, optimize, and future-proof with the right power monitoring solution.

Data center managers have a lot on their plates, and power monitoring solutions provide critical information that can help them achieve many of their goals such as simplifying capacity planning and maximizing system availability and energy efficiency. For more information on the advantages of power monitoring or how to choose a power monitoring solution for your facility, contact Vertiv today.

 

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