Pimp my datacenter: Universal Electric

Universal's Starline Track Busway has changed forever the way we bring power to our servers

It's funny. Sometimes the products that have the greatest impact are the most difficult to write about because they simply work. That's the case with Universal Electric's Starline Track Busway, a straightforward solution that takes an impressive leap forward in the basic task of providing electrical power to the equipment in the server room.

The Starline Track Busway has completely eliminated the tangle of high-power rubber cables that typically snake under a datacenter floor or coil up on top of racks. We simply slung this modular power distribution system below our cable ladders using threaded rods, but mounting brackets provide for some truly creative options. The Busway's power taps are simple sheet metal boxes with one-, two-, four-, or six-duplex outlet slots and their associated circuit breakers. A simple insert and 90-degree twist give our datacenter managers the ability to add power taps right above the racks without turning anything off. With Busway configurations of up to 600 amps, the breaker boxes can be user modified to tap any of the three phases, and you can easily change the duplex outlet module to match the plugs on your PDU or specialized equipment. Using standard sockets and circuit breakers, you can cobble together even the weirdest power connection without calling an electrician. Read that last sentence again and think about your last server relocation project. See what we mean about making a huge impact?

[ Return to the "Pimp my datacenter" intro for the background on our data center makeover and links to more cool and cutting-edge datacenter gear. Read about our project's hurdles, and tips for avoiding them, in "Five lessons of a datacenter overhaul." ]

In our HIG 319 installation, we chose to run 80 amps in flex hoses from the power feed boxes to each of two Busways hung above the lines of APC racks. From a power meter on each feed box, the SOEST folks can see at a glance just how much power the track is pulling. The key issue here is that traditional underfloor and overhead power whips are difficult to add, change, or move; underfloor whips also do a pretty good job of blocking cool air destined for your racks. Interestingly enough, when you factor in the labor for a licensed electrician, the Starline system (which ran about $11,000 in our case) is cost competitive with whips -- and cheaper as soon as you discover the need to change power feeds to a rack.

From a safety perspective, it's critical to note that you won't be electrocuted if you stick a screwdriver in the Busway. The product line comes out of industrial bus bars -- systems that are used to provide power for high-current manufacturing equipment. The electricians who worked on our project are planning to use the Busway in another project based on just how easy it was to install and the number of drops it eliminates. When electricians decide that a product has to be included on their next project, it's a serious sign of approval. Even if you have doubts about our high-power expertise, you can trust the folks in the broad-brimmed hard hats.

We really want to say more, but the Starline Track Busway is just boringly simple -- it does the most basic sort of job in an absolutely reliable and incredibly flexible way. SOEST IT staff can now add or change or move the power taps without an electrician, and we've completely eliminated a potentially dangerous rat’s nests of heavy power cables. This is one of the first solutions we’ve found that truly changes the look and hassle of managing power in a datacenter.

Total price for our solution with four 10-foot Starline Track Busway sections, 13 six-duplex power feed boxes, one two-duplex power feed box, the Starline installation tool, and various couplers, caps, and rod hangers: $11,300.

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