Saving Big with Power Usage Transparency at your Co-location and Legacy data centers

By: Sanjay Motwani, Regional Director, APAC ∙ Raritan Asia Pacific

India is a potential growth market for colocation data centers with many organizations looking towards managed hosting solutions for their ever growing data streams. Growing pressure on power, complexity in data center management and above all the need to rationalize costs of managing data is driving the growth of colocation data centers. With a predicted 16% CAGR and an estimated USD 54 billion market cap by 2020, globally(as per the recent report published by Markets and Markets), colocation data centers are definitely one of the fastest growing sectors with a fair share of growth riding on upsurge in demand from countries like India. However, one of the major challenges that most colocation data centers face is the huge expenditure on power that obviously gets passed on as a cost to the clients.

Power consumption is not homogeneous in a data center, but most clients get a fixed billing irrespective of their power usage. Currently most colocation data centers bill on fixed power fees based on provisional power instead of actual power usage. In traditional billing of a typical data center, the customers are charged with a fixed price for a power drop in each cabinet which is arrived at by calculating the maximum power draw they can make on a given circuit. As per this pricing model colocation data centers assume that the customer will use all available power for all the equipment at the maximum level throughout the month. However, in actual terms, the usage is much lower. For instance as per the electrical code, one can only utilize up to 80% of the capacity of any given power circuit, and considering the average usage pattern, power draw is generally not more than 50%. But then in the fixed billing system, the customers bear the high cost without understanding their real power usage pattern. Organizations already pressed to reduce costs on data storage are further frustrated with mounting power charges, especially when they know that most of the time they have not consumed the billed amount. This is not a happy state for colocation data centers too, for who would want an unhappy client? But then, where does the solution lie?

Act on Actual
In a common situation like usage of mobile phones, some users have had a huge fixed amount going towards their mobile service charges every month. With an auto-debit, they end up paying the fixed sum every month without realizing their usage pattern. Customers are shocked to see the hefty amount they are paying for voice calls and the underutilization of their data charges. Customers then opt to rationalize the plan, move the amount from voice calls towards data and bring down their monthly bills. Now, imagine the same scenario in the billing of data centers. Most clients get a fixed bill irrespective of their power consumption. With greater visibility into how much power is being consumed by which equipment, both their consumption patterns as well as their billing could be rationalized. It is, however, not as easy as getting an itemized bill from your mobile operator. Given the scale and complexity at data centers, minute monitoring of actual usage of each power circuit is not easily achieved. This is exactly what a Branch Circuit Monitoring (BCM) system achieves – monitoring electrical usage on each panel at a glance.

This technology was initially designed to ensure maximum uptime and avoid undue outages. Engineers and operating personnel could monitor power and ascertain impending danger of tripping or any tripped breakers by physically looking at electrical panels. With further technological advancement, BCM can alert local as well as remote personnel monitoring a power distribution unit whenever there is any surge. In recent times though, the technology has evolved to help colocation data centers keep a detailed track of exact power usage at every grid and panel. This in turn has helped improve transparency as the clients too are now aware of their actual power consumption. Applied to billing systems, this technology allows clients to be billed only for what they consume and helps them rationalize their spending. This is a win – win for both colocation data centers and their clients as both stand to gain – CoLos gain on customer confidence and their clients on precious rupees/dollars!

With BCM, colocation data centers are not only in a better position to estimate power usage but also to cut down on unnecessary usage thereby reducing power costs exponentially. Higher billing accuracy and transparency helps CoLos bring in consistency in service contracts instead of going back to the drawing board to renegotiate whenever there is a change in power consumption pattern at the customers end. As for the customers, BCM technology is a boon as it helps them to bring down power costs drastically besides enabling them to optimally manage their power consumption with greater visibility into their actual usage patterns. This insight can also feed their future planning needs and allows them to accurately forecast future requirements.

Choosing the Right BCM Solution

What a BCM system does is simply to measure electrical current of each power circuit within a given Power Distribution Unit (PDU) with the help of Circuit Transformers (CT). But then picking up the right BCM solution is not that simple.. The solution is fast becoming commoditized and colocation data centers must choose the right one, with care and thorough research.

Here are some basic functionalities that a good BCM solution must have:

The Right Capacity
Power is the lifeline of any data center and any BCM system worth its name should be able to continuously monitor each power circuit round the clock, be it the panel boards, floor power distribution units, remote panel or overhead busways. The right BCM would ensure that not a unit of power would go unmonitored or untracked.

Real time is Real Strength
Real-time monitoring and access to reports is critical. This is not only required for billing transparency but for the overall health of the data center. A granular visibility of power usage and alert on potential break-points are critical to maintain expensive apparatus and 100% uptime. This combined with historical data feeds enables better planning, forecasting & billing.

Easy Integration
A BCM solution that easily integrates and adapts to the existing hardware and monitoring software is what data centers need. Most data centers have legacy systems in place and replacing them to acquire new technology is neither practical nor advisable. A system that sits on top of existing technology and delivers the required insights is truly valuable. A modular, easy to install BCM solution (branch circuit monitor or busway monitor kit) can be scaled as and when needed. It can also be installed rapidly with a simple USB stick, requiring no downtime or risks of manual errors. It can also be integrated with Building Management Tools and other monitoring software’s giving a holistic view of the health of the data center at any point of time

Granular Anywhere Reporting
A system that monitors but does not share insights, when and where required, would hardly be an effective tool in power monitoring. Easy accessibility to reports in granular details, anytime, anywhere is what is critical today. Most colocation data centers do not have access to round the clock expert engineers on site. However they have remote monitoring and intervention capabilities. A BCM solution that supports such capabilities is essential.

Customer is the centre of the universe for any business and a happy and satisfied customer makes more business sense than any other strategic measure an organization can employ. Colocation data centers must make a move towards usage based billing to ensure their clients are not unduly burdened and are able to offset any non-essential cost. The move is imperative but the question is how fast the CoLos are willing to take action. Given the market scenario, the sooner the better – both for the colocation data centers and their customers.

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