Pimp my datacenter: American Power Conversion

APC laid the foundation and led the way with InfraStruXure racks, cooling, power management, environmental monitoring, and the software that ties it all together

American Power Conversion (APC) played the central role among the vendors in the HIG 319 datacenter project. The company donated a boatload (literally) of APC InfraStruxure gear and no small measure of professional services expertise, but considering the pro bono nature of the project was understandably forced to cut corners, especially regarding the free expertise. We'd recommend engaging APC's professional services arm for a real-life, budgeted build-out. You'll get the same excellent equipment, backed by a full-on, start-to-finish project consultancy that has a few decades of experience managing datacenter infrastructure projects.

Stuffed in the front of APC's 40-foot delivery truck were the two air-cooling condensers, the beating heart of HIG 319's new refrigerant-fueled cooling system. The APC InfraStruXure InRow RP cooling system stands apart from the crowd in its use of variable compressors and truly intelligent cooling. Plus, the InRow's integration with the InfraStruXure Central management system gives real-time control over power, cooling, and security all in a single console. It's a single system that in reality needs only a single IP address, because the management system front ends all the other devices on an isolated control network for command and control. In real life, each InRow RP combined with a condenser costs somewhere around $50,000.

[ Watch the videos: Brian Chee on APC's InRow RP cooling system and the HIG 319 condenser installation, on APC's NetBotz surveillance system, and on NetBotz environmental monitoring. Return to the "Pimp my datacenter" intro for the background on our datacenter 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." ]

HIG 319 was already equipped with an 80kW InfraStruXure UPS, which had been down-configured to 40kW. Even at 40kW, the system was running at just 30 percent utilization. To handle the heavier load that HIG 319 was soon to bear, APC merely upped the specs and brought along enough new batteries and power modules to increase the capacity from 40kW to the full 80kW. Because each power module adds to the overall capacity in 10kW chunks, this flexible Smart-UPS gives SOEST room for growth, all in a modular package that is very user-serviceable in easy-to-lift modules. Total cost: approximately $60,000. (Note: SOEST liked this system so much that it is considering standardizing on the system for all future projects.)

APC also donated twelve of its popular InfraStruXure NetShelter SX server racks, all done in uniform black and equipped with sliding shelves, cable management, combination door locks, and two KVM drawers for on-site management. Key to solving our power management woes were APC's "zero RU" vertical, metered Power Distribution Units (PDU) fed by three-phase 208 volt 20 amp circuits on a twist-lock L21-20 connector. With each phase reporting back to the InfraStruXure Central management system, the SOEST folks can better manage load across each power phase to prevent power system imbalances. These units simply slip into keyholes at the back of each APC rack, with a maximum of four per rack. Just choose the model that matches your input and output needs and slip it into place. Total for 12 racks: approximately $40,000.

To maintain constant security surveillance and environmental monitoring of HIG 319, APC also provided a full complement of NetBotz gear. Far more than a security camera, the NetBotz appliances include a whole line of datacenter-specific sensors, covering environmental thresholds like rack temperature, room temperature, airborne particle levels, air flow, humidity levels, floods, and even leak detection. These sensors couple to mounts in and on the InfraStruXure racks, or on the wall of the datacenter, and deliver their streams of information via a dedicated network segment. The system can even integrate with an existing CCTV security system, though we didn't have one to try. A unique feature is an APC-supplied and -supported SDK encouraging a community of developers to do some very creative expansion of the basic NetBotz feature set. For seven cameras and 10 sensors, our NetBotz solution came to roughly $53,000.

Finally, APC also brought along the newest versions of its Capacity Manager and Change Manager applications. These are two of a burgeoning group of datacenter planning and management applications, another worthy being the Rackwise Data Center Manager solution we discuss elsewhere. Unlike the free datacenter and rack planning tool APC provides online, Capacity Manager and Change Manager are full-featured planning and management tools for large datacenters.

Change Manager combines a graphical view of the datacenter with an asset manager that keeps track of everything installed in the datacenter -- and not just APC equipment. That data is then compared with readings taken from Capacity Manager, which keeps track of current space, power, and cooling stats based on data provided by APC UPSes, cooling systems, and NetBotz sensors. Due to the "live" nature of this system, we could turn off certain devices to see the impact on the overall datacenter.

The Change Manager and Capacity Manager combo was a bit overkill for our small HIG 319 server room, but for larger datacenters, the information provided can be hugely beneficial toward understanding day-to-day usage costs, long-term capacity planning, how green the datacenter really is, and numerous other concerns. Most important to SOEST is keeping the computing clusters cool. To this end, Change Manager and Capacity Manager can correlate all the information from the PDU's (current draw), plus heat and airflow readings from the NetBotz, and air output from the InRow cooling units to predict hotspots.

The total value of the APC contribution to the HIG 319 project totals nearly $300,000 when you add up the racks, environmental management, security, power control systems, safety gear, and the software for managing it all.  

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