What Is a Power Distribution Unit?

Malcolm Tatum

A power distribution unit (PDU) is a form of equipment that is used to manage the allocation and distribution of power to multiple recipients. Using this type of device helps to ensure that all essential equipment receives a sufficient supply of power even if the main power source is temporarily not available. One of the more common examples of a power distribution unit is the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that is utilized to keep computer workstations and internal networks up and running during a power outage.


There are essentially two classes of power distribution unit equipment in common use today. One is known as the rack-based PDU devices. Units of this type help to process the voltage level and current flow from a power source so that the supply to specific devices is sufficient but not enough to overload any of the circuitry. This process may involve converting the electrical flow in some manner, such as adapting a single phase source of power into a multiple phase power flow. Using this type of power distribution unit is common in a number of applications, including managing the flow of power to computer systems or to equipment used to create light shows at concerts or even to manage the lighting system for a stage production.

A second class of the power distribution unit is the heavy floor mounted PDU. This type of unit essentially processes power received from a main source and distributes it to smaller devices based on a specific allocation process. As the name implies, this type of unit is normally larger and permanently placed. This is unlike the rack-based units, which can be easily moved in order to accommodate any type of need that may arise.

While some designs for the power distribution unit call for manual operation on-site, there are models that are equipped to handle remote access and management. Remote management of the PDU is increasingly common in a number of business settings, making it possible to not only activate units in order to meet some sort of emergency but also to manage the function of those units without relying solely on the programmed energy allocation protocols. This approach can make it easier to deal with any situation that may require the ability to access the units remotely and shut some of them down, without requiring the shutdown to be conducted locally and possibly placing human beings at risk in a disaster situation.

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