Flexibility is the Key to Stability

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When designing a data center, a recognized set of principles is typically followed. Scalability, resiliency, reliability, and sustainability are all essential, but the most important common feature for data center products may be flexibility.

The equipment cabinet should likewise be flexible, but this has not always been the case. There has been a rethinking of the way IT infrastructure, power, and cooling converge—and the data center cabinet is starting to adapt.

Designing a rigid physical infrastructure to support a fluid project was once a formidable challenge. One that many a data center architect faced while building for current needs and predicting for future metamorphizes.

Planning for Data Center Architecture

Planning data center projects is a significant challenge. Plans are often loosely communicated among stakeholders, and minor changes can result in substantial repercussions down the road. Contributing to the complexity is delivering power and cooling to loads well beyond the average for almost any other type of facility.

In addition to capacity issues, there is the load demand challenge: outages are never an option, not even for maintenance.

Whether designing a hyperscale or an enterprise edge data center, deciding on the type of racks and cabinets needed to organize all the network hardware and connectivity can be daunting. The primary function is to house servers, cable, connectivity, switchgear, and power equipment.

Selecting the proper racks and cabinets can increase the performance of the equipment by providing adequate airflow and cable management properties to protect and organize the cable and connectivity.

Selecting and installing durable, flexible, and appropriate data center equipment is critical to ensure data centers can expand with evolving technology for future applications and systems. The physical infrastructure, the software, and the demands placed upon any given data center vary, moment by moment and day-to-day.

Scalability, resiliency, reliability, and sustainability are all fundamental design principles, but none help contribute to the continuing evolution of center operations as much as the center’s ability to be flexible.

In today’s unpredictable world, companies that will thrive are not necessarily the largest or most innovative, but the ones that have the flexibility to adapt quickly to changing needs and unexpected events. It can be detrimental for any business to follow a set course blindly because that’s what they’ve planned for and strategized.

In data center design, opportunities for adaptability increase the nearer you move to the load or in the direction of the cabinet on a one-line. For example, while a 2MW generator is inflexible, it could be feeding an overhead busway that is the very definition of flexibility. The data center manager could move electrical capacity to the cabinet load through busway without adding circuits to a distribution panel.

Designing for Flexibility

Another challenge for designers is predicting the quantity and mix of outlets the data center will require. Planning the combination of C13 and C19 outlets for a cabinet you’re deploying today for a known workload is one thing. Still, the turnover of equipment and changing workloads mean there’s no guarantee that the same mix of outlets will be suitable for future uses. However, high density rack-mount PDUs can now support multiple-plug configurations instead of just one. Today a designer could specify a C13/C19 outlet that would accommodate both C14 and C20 plugs, giving the outlets the flexibility to support a variety of future IT-equipment refreshes. This flexibility lets operators populate racks one way today, yet still accommodate the changes of tomorrow with ease.

Companies are not only rethinking the cabinet PDU but are also rethinking the cabinet’s design. The equipment cabinet houses the server, storage, and network appliances that generate, process, and deliver the data we rely on. The cabinet’s purpose is primarily structural. It takes on the burden of housing all the equipment and its weight, often thousands of pounds stacked in a relatively small footprint, sometimes as minimal as 24” by 42”.

When it comes to infrastructure, operators are accustomed to various widths and heights and the almost endless list of accessories that can be used to support equipment.

Cabinet manufacturers provide rails, doors, shelves for switches, cable-management solutions, and more. Only after the accessory selections have been made and the equipment has been installed is the equipment cabinet configured for the present installation.

It is not uncommon for companies to replace racks during equipment-refresh cycles when they realize that the current racks cannot accommodate the form factor of the new technology.

Besides housing gear, the equipment cabinet serves another essential function; it is the structure for data center cooling systems.

In the past, the standard data center cabinet had limited flexibility. However, there is little doubt that any data center design would be improved and supported by racks that worked with operators by complimenting power and cooling delivery and allowing for future-minded flexibility.

Cabinets also house the rack PDUs, which are responsible for redundant, reliable, conditioned power. The cabinet-mount PDU is attached by a support bracket to the rear of the cabinet and distributes single and three-phase power to the loads inside the cabinet. Seemingly an innocuous detail, the PDU support bracket is an accessory that can bring an installation project to a screeching halt if overlooked in the parts order. The PDU-mounting bracket commonly falls into a no man’s land of responsibility: is it part of the cabinet? Or does it come with the cabinet PDU?

The bracket, as well as the cabinet PDU, can also contribute to an inflexible future. By definition, a bracket will support a specific PDU in a particular position within the cabinet. But cabinet PDUs are commonly mounted in various configurations, depending on the application, which could change again during an equipment refresh. There can also be limited positions available for affixing the PDU along the horizontal axis at the back of a standard cabinet.

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