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Power Strips and Environmental Monitoring

Published by Jason Koffler on 27 February 2012

As data centre and IT managers struggle with the rising costs of running facilities, the demand for more information about power use and control over its consumption has given rise to the development of more intelligent and efficient power devices. What were once dumb, black, white or grey socket extension leads have evolved into sophisticated acolytes of smarter energy management. This article offers insight into the latest power strip technologies.

A power strip is also referred to as a power extension lead, extension block, power board, plug board, plug socket extension lead (and many other names). It consists of a flexible cable with a socket plug that plugs directly into the mains supply at one end and a box with multiple power plug sockets at the other. It enables multiple electrical devices that would otherwise be fighting over one wall socket to be plugged in to the mains and receive electrical supply.

In the commercial world, in data centres for example, power strips play an essential role in rackmount installations where many electrical devices are located in close proximity, within a server rack, for example. Each piece of equipment, including servers, network routers, switches etc., needs to be plugged in to a source of electricity. One rack may contain multiples of such devices so each rack will require one of more power strip/s to supply its load.

Basic power strips should not be plugged into the output of a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). Although their surge suppressors and EMI/RFI filtering filters power and protects connected loads against surges, they cannot efficiently distribute electric current along the strip, which may cause attached equipment to malfunction or may even damage the downstream UPS. Historically, in this scenario, a PDU (power distribution unit) would be required.

However, more advanced power strips are now coming on to the market that are designed for high-end environments and that operate more like PDUs.

Some types of power strips have sockets that can be individually switched on and off, others offer a ‘Master/Slave’ facility, whereby the ‘master’ device can affect an action in the others, such as switching them off in a controlled manner when it is switched off.

Power Strips with Remote and Environmental Monitoring

More advanced power strips may offer a more elaborate method of surge suppression, which makes them suitable for high-end data centre and computing environments. Also referred to as ‘Intelligent Power Strips’ or ‘Networked power strips’, such devices can offer sequential power up (to avoid high in-rush currents), environmental monitoring (temperature, humidity, water sensing and dry contact closures), current reading, and virtual circuit breakers, which helps to prevent power surges, overheating, tripping of the entire power strip and harming of attached equipment.

Some power strips can be controlled, across a network, allowing them to be monitored and switched off and on remotely. They also offer real-time monitoring, including threshold alerts, support for SNMP traps and alarms.

Power Strips and Energy Efficiency

Power strips, along with environmental monitoring, have many energy efficiency and energy saving features, which is why they are popular in the data centre arena, in which energy saving and lowering the lifetime costs of equipment are paramount. Outlet-level metering via a network provides data centre or other energy management/IT professionals with the tools they need to monitor, reduce and manage the growing power consumption costs of IT equipment (which experts predict are set to rise to over 50% of data centre annual running costs). Such equipment also enables them to improve server uptime, use power more efficiently and make informed capacity planning decisions. Some power strips will switch off an individual socket if the connected appliance goes into standby mode, and this significantly reduces power consumption in highly dense environments.

Metered power strips, with environmental monitoring, offer remote IP access allowing administrators to view aggregate power draw and environmental information via a network. Alongside providing advanced warning of anomalies to guard against unplanned power outages, user defined alarms give real-time and remote alerts to unexpected circuit overloads.

We sell a range of socket strips from Eaton Power, designed for vertical mounting (V) and which include a Zero-U button option for mounting in the back or side of a cabinet to avoid using valuable rack height (U) space. Options include sockets (number and type), mains power leads and plugs, nominal operating voltage and frequency.

The Eaton ePDU and Servertec Sentry Basic range of power distribution units (PDUs) includes simple Cabinet Distribution Units (CDUs) to provide reliable power distribution within network and data centre equipment racks.