The key to addressing many of these challenges is to put in place the right infrastructure and, says Paul Ryan, UK Segment Sales Manager for Eaton, the best infrastructure is made up of elements that are not only individually optimised but are also designed to work together harmoniously.Though IT installations range in size from a small computer room with a single rack and a handful of servers, to purpose-built data centres covering acres, it’s very likely that the business demands will be very similar. They need a performance-optimised facility with maximum reliability. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find that, more specifically, they’re constantly seeking ways of increasing energy efficiency without sacrificing uptime, looking for flexible solutions with inherent scalability, providing reduced implementation times; this last item corresponding to faster time to market for data centre operators and faster time to availability for corporate IT services.Effectively addressing these requirements presents significant challenges and the magnitude of those challenges is increasing continually. What was considered good operating efficiency yesterday, for example, is only mediocre by today’s standards, and despite the gains already made in this area, there’s still constant pressure for ever-higher efficiencies. The same is true of reliability and resilience. Yet the engineering resource available to help address these challenges is, in many organisations, dwindling rather than growing.So what is the way forward? The answer is to understand that, for the most part, it’s the infrastructure of the IT installation that determines its efficiency, resilience and flexibility. Get the infrastructure right and many of the key challenges mentioned will be resolved. This, of course, leads logically to the question, “What is the right infrastructure??” The details will vary according to the application but, in a nutshell, the right infrastructure is made up of dependable high-performance elements that work together harmoniously.This article will look at some of the major infrastructure elements – such as low-voltage distribution equipment, UPS systems, air-flow management and racking – to provide guidelines on their selection but, firstly, let’s examine the need for harmonious operation of those elements. This is most easily achieved by selecting a supplier that can offer a complete infrastructure solution, covering white space and grey space, and providing a holistic approach from the incoming utility supply to the power outlet in the rack space.Working with a single supplier brings big benefits. First of all, engineering requirements are minimised, as all of the items of equipment from a single supplier will have been designed to work together. Compatibility problems are eliminated and efficient interoperation is guaranteed. This means that implementation will be fast and commissioning time minimal, meeting the requirement for faster time to market or to availability. If problems should be encountered, there can be no divided responsibility, which is all too often a source of delays and cost overruns; there’s just one point of contact to provide the solution. Further, a company offering a complete infrastructure solution for a project can see the “big picture” and will often be able to put forward beneficial ideas that would not be feasible for companies offering only partial infrastructure solutions. In fact, the best of these suppliers may well be able to provide comprehensive design and project management services, in effect delivering a turnkey package at far below conventional turnkey costs.This is all very well, of course, for projects like new-build data centres where the engineering team is able to specify every aspect of, for example, the power chain, from incoming switchgear down to the enclosure power distribution units. Yet what of the IT manager in a small to medium-sized company, who can specify only the contents of the data cupboard? In such cases, and all those in between, harmonious operation of infrastructure elements remains a crucial requirement, and it is still, as far as possible, a good strategy to choose a supplier that can provide as many as possible of the elements needed for the project in hand. Such suppliers will recognise the need to accommodate infrastructure elements from third party sources and will be able to provide sound advice on how this can best be achieved. Having established the benefits of working, as far as possible, with a single supplier for IT infrastructure elements, let’s move on to individual elements and, in particular, examine some of the latest technologies that specifiers should look for to be sure that they enjoy the highest possible levels of efficiency, reliability, flexibility and value for money.Low-voltage switchgear is the foundation stone for the IT power chain, but it often receives scant consideration from IT professionals. This is unfortunate, as a major switchgear fault could result in prolonged disconnection of the utility supply to the IT systems. A fault-tolerant switchgear design with, in large installations at least, provision for switching between alternative utility supplies is, therefore, highly desirable. Withdrawable functional elements are a major benefit as they enable maintenance and upgrades to be carried out without service interruptions. In addition, the switchgear should be designed to allow fast, easy and cost-effective expansion to accommodate future changes in requirements.The next key element in the IT power chain is the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system. The latest UPSs are well adapted for use in cloud-based and virtualised environments, and are supported by powerful power management software that integrates easily with all modern operating systems and virtualisation packages. This means that users are always in full control of the UPS installation and also have instant access to detailed information about its status.Big gains in UPS operating efficiency have been made in recent years, with models that incorporate Energy Saver System (ESS) technology delivering efficiencies as high as 99% when power quality from the utility supply is good. This translates into large savings not only in power costs, but also in cooling costs, especially in large data centres. It should be noted that ESS in no way compromises the protection provided by the UPS. If the utility power quality deteriorates, the UPS switches to full double-conversion mode in under two milliseconds, a transition so fast that it is completely invisible to even the most sensitive IT equipment.Other important benefits of the latest UPSs include easy capacity testing to verify condition of the batteries, and hot-sync paralleling that provides enhanced battery management, inherent redundancy and a scalable architecture that can readily be adapted to meet increasing power requirements.While apparently simple items with little technological sophistication, racks play an essential role in IT installations and are considerably more sophisticated than they may at first appear. The best modern racking systems, for example, provide enhanced air management to eliminate the risk of hot spots that might lead to equipment failure, and incorporate versatile security features like rack based electronic access control. The ability to provide the optimum equipment layout and densities provides operators with the ability to truly maximise their infrastructure and Return On Investment (ROI).They’re also flexible in their configuration and easy to expand, should the need arise. The best systems can, if required, be delivered to site fully assembled and equipped with enclosure power distribution units (ePDUs), an option that can lead to big reductions in the time needed to implement a new IT installation or to extend an existing installation. Also, those ePDUs, while they may seem relatively minor components in the overall scheme of things, are well worth thinking about. Types are now available that provide dependable plug retention even with inexpensive standard IEC power leads, thereby removing a surprisingly common cause of interruptions in the power supply to individual servers. Depending on the type selected, ePDUs can also offer remote switching, allowing wayward servers to be conveniently restarted without needing to physically access them, and comprehensive metering that allows the power consumed by each individual server to be accurately recorded as an aid to effective power management, billing and apportionment of costs.To summarise, the key to success in the challenging world of IT service provision lies with the infrastructure. The individual elements making up that infrastructure should be sourced from a supplier with wide experience and a solid reputation for product reliability and support. They should also embody the latest technology, as this provides many benefits in terms of efficiency, reliability and scalability. As far as possible, it pays to source all of the infrastructure elements from the same supplier, as this eliminates the risk of compatibility issues and ensures that all of the elements work together harmoniously.
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