By Sandi Renden, Director of Marketing, Server Technology
Product improvements are not solely the result of product management influences.
In many cases, the most innovative products are the result of customer feedback and they are often the most successful. To remain relevant, products must be in lockstep with customers’ changing needs to enhance their experiences. And data centers are a perfect example of an industry that must constantly adapt to change.
Why is the data center industry a good example? Because workloads need elastic processing abilities, servers have gone virtual and networks are sprawling at the edges. As this continues to happen, the power required to run these environments must be as flexible as their hardware and software counterparts. Intelligent rack power distribution unit (PDU) manufacturer, Server Technology, knows all too well how fast data center power requirements can quickly decrease a product’s usefulness when it comes to supporting changing rack devices. However, they also have a history of circumventing this unfortunate situation and exceling where other PDU and rack mount power strip manufacturers often struggle and sometimes fail.
Marc Cram, Director of New Market Development for Server Technology, shares some insights into how his company is able to quickly pivot product manufacturing and redesign data center PDUs to fit today’s elastic workload environments. Spoiler alert: their success comes from listening to their customers and allowing them to design their own PDUs.
Turning Pain into Gain
Where do good inventions truly come from? Willy Wonka states the secret to inventing is, “93% perspiration, 6% electricity, 4% evaporation and 2% butter-scotch ripple.” Although this may be practical for creating Everlasting Gobstoppers, in the data center environment, game-changing inventions are predicated on more simplistic methods. And perhaps the simplest, but successful stimulus for inventors comes from listening to customers’ pain points.
Cram says that Server Technology was founded by listening to customers and figuring out how to satisfy as many of their power needs—with a single PDU design. “It’s a tradition that continues to this very day; we still do leading-edge work for our customers by listening to their specific needs and turning that information into targeted products for their exact applications,” he says.
Cram understood that data centers were traditionally built in a raised floor environment and the IT managers were in the same facility. This situation made it easier for managers to frequently replace rack mount power strips as servers were swapped out. As time went by and the data center industry evolved, servers and racks were not necessarily located on the same premises where the IT managers were residing. Listening to customers, it became clear that having the ability to remotely read the rack power status made a tremendous amount of sense and alleviated the pain of traveling between data centers to read or reset PDU devices.
However, all customer needs are not created equal and some organizations did not want remote management capabilities. Rather, they voiced the need for PDUs to be equipped with alarm capabilities instead. “Banks are a good example of this,” Cram said. “The last thing a bank wants is for somebody to come in and turn off their rack power supply that just happens to be processing someone’s ATM transaction. You don’t ever want it to be interrupted.”
The Difference Between Hearing and Listening
Hearing is the act of perceiving auditory sounds versus listening, which is the act of paying attention to sounds and giving them consideration. Listening to customers allowed Server Technology to jump directly to a Switched PDU from a basic, unmanaged PDU. Cram says that by listening to customers, the company discovered a need for a power strip that had remote monitoring capabilities, but also provided individual outlet controls. Cram noted, “this is where the ‘smarts’ in our products came from.”
A similar listening/consideration process was also undertaken when Server Technology developed outlet power sensing. It was learned that customers like the per-outlet sensing capabilities, but they did not like the control. With this information, the company created smart PDU options. Now, Server Technology is offering five different PDU levels: Basic (power in/power out) Metered, Switched, Smart Per Outlet Power Sensing (Smart POPS) and Switched POPs.
The flexibility of five distinct data center PDU offerings, as well as the High-Density Outlet Technology (HDOT) line of PDUs, decreases the need to go back and reconfigure rack power when new devices are added. Cram says that “whether the need is for a full rack-of-gear or a rack that starts its life with three servers and a switch then eventually is used for some other configuration, Server Technology’s family of PDUs can handle the entire transition.”
The innovation behind the HDOT and the HDOT Cx resides in the ability that enables customers to select what outlet types they want as well as have them placed in the desired location on the PDU. “You can reconfigure the rack to plug in a different device into the same CX outlet,” Cram says. For example, a customer populated a rack with 1u height servers with C13 outlets. Using the HDOT Cx would give them the ability to remove servers and add a high-end Cisco router or another big-power device that requires C19 outlets. The HDOT Cx outlet provides the flexibility they need without throwing away the original PDU.
Perhaps the ultimate result of listening to customers’ concerns comes in the ability Server Technology has given its customers to actually “build your own PDUs” or BYOPDU. This power strip innovation provides a website where customers may configure the exact type of outlets needed, based upon the PDU’s intent and initial use. By specifying the CX modules, the customer has extreme flexibility and the opportunity to extend the life and usability of each power strip.
Listening, Not Hearing, Pays Dividends
Customer feedback is one of the greatest sources of product inspiration and listening is a skill that needs to be developed to ensure useful evolution. Incorporating feedback to advance products will benefit entire industries—and creating a perpetual feedback/innovation loop ensures a steady stream of improvements. Aside from the flexible HDOT PDU family, Server Technology also developed other PDUs that distribute 415VAC, 480VAC or 380VDC—all in response to customer feedback and customer needs. “In an industry where rigidity breeds stagnation and stagnation impedes a data center’s ability to efficiently process workloads, customers’ voices are the inventor’s greatest ally,” Cram concluded.
Sandi Terry Renden is Director of Marketing at Server Technology, a brand of Legrand in the Datacenter Power and Control Division. Sandi is a passionate leader and creative visionary, with over 25 years of management, digital marketing and sales execution experience, with a proven track record of success recruiting and retaining talent, hitting sales targets and developing multi-channel digital marketing and branding campaigns for non-profit and profit organizations in both B2B and B2C. She has international working and cultural (residency) experience on three continents (Americas, Asia and Europe.) Sandi has earned a BA in Marketing from the University of Utah and an MBA in Marketing.