Smarter busway - the next battle for power distribution vendors

What are the next technological steps for a now-mature busway market?

28 November 2011 by Yevgeniy Sverdlik - DatacenterDynamics

Smarter busway - the next battle for power distribution vendors
A section of UEC's Starline Track busway

When it brought its Starline Track busway into the data center space in the 1990s, Universal Electric Corporation (UEC) was entering a market wide open. As one industry source put it: “They were it.” Today the company is looking at a market full of heavyweight competitors.

 
If UEC’s main challenge in the 1990s was convincing data center operators that the busway technology — which has been around for about 100 years — was better than dragging cables under the raised floor, today it also has to convince them it is better than the comparable products by at least five other vendors pushing it aggressively into the data center space.
 
Joel Ross, president of UEC’s Starline business, says: “We were the first [company] to push for this method of power distribution in data centers. Today we see that other manufacturers are in the market as well.”
 
UEC’s key competitors in the space are APC by Schneider Electric, Emerson, Eaton, GE and PDI. Up to this point, the companies have mainly been differentiating their busway products by offering different degrees of customization, varying allowable power densities, keeping the electrical track fully enclosed, or keeping it exposed for quicker deployment of plug receptacles, as well as offering different ways to add busway.
 
Many of the vendors also offer 380V directcurrent versions of busway systems, although the reportedly more energy-efficient option has yet to gain general acceptance by the industry.
 
Many, like Douglas Taylor, manager of busway solutions sales and marketing for the Americas at Eaton, believe the next technological shift in the busway technology for data centers is integration with Data Center Infrastructure Management (DCIM) solutions. .
 
“Metering is probably the newest thing right now,” Taylor says, explaining that Eaton is taking its busway product in this direction. “Branch-circuit monitoring — that is where the product may be different next year.”
 
When it rolls out its metered busway, Eaton is going to provide its own meters that will communicate data using an industry-standard protocol. The company is currently making efforts to gauge the industry’s overall opinion on what that protocol should be.
 
Gary Anderson, business development manager for AC Power at Emerson, says DCIM capabilities for busway will become a mainstay. The current challenge, however, lies in determining how much data is necessary to collect and what is the best way to use that data.
 
Since the busway happens to delineate responsibilities between IT and facilities staff, the data it collects needs to be useful to both sides of the house. Facilities staff are responsible for infrastructure up to the rack PDU, and IT staff are concerned with what happens from the plug level up to IT gear.
 
Some early examples of integrating DCIM capabilities with busway include DCIM vendor FieldView providing monitoring for UEC’s Starline Track product, and PDI’s integration of its PowerWave busway system with WaveStar, its own branch-circuit monitoring system.
 
Gaining momentum
Ross says UEC first started selling busway power-distribution systems in the late 1980s, primarily for industrial deployments. The company brought the technology into the data center market in the 1990s, as the size of the Internet infrastructure ballooned and data centers became more energy intensive.
 
According to Ross, “it took years” after the technology came to market before it gained recognition as a viable option for the data center. Over time, as more data center customers deployed the product, enough “critical mass” built up to convince the general industry that busway was reliable enough for data centers. Today, the data center industry is responsible for nearly half of UEC’s busway sales.
 
Eaton’s history with the technology has been radically different. While the company had offered industrial busway solutions since the 1930s, it only brought its solution into the data center market in 2009.
 
It took Eaton about two years to adopt the busway product for data center use, Taylor says. The product it offers to the data center market now is the 24th busway design released since the company began to sell the industrial busway.
 
Emerson data center busway was the first busway product the company had ever offered. Emerson became one of the latest entrants into this space when it announced its Liebert MB
modular busway in May 2010.
 
Emerson based its solution on an industrial version Siemens had earlier released, and adapted it for use in the data center. Key modifications included putting outlets on one side of the track, since the Siemens solution had them on alternating sides, and making customized plugs available.
 
The busway technology has undoubtedly gained a foothold in the data center space and the vendors no longer have a hard time convincing customers of its benefits against conventional power distribution. The next battleground is integration with DCIM. 
 

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