As any data center manager knows, ensuring continuous uptime is critical to business continuity. And part of ensuring continuous uptime means making sure power is being effectively distributed throughout the facility at all times in the safest and most efficient way possible. Yet the needs of a data center are always changing, as it expands and facility managers add new equipment. At the same time, advancements in power-distribution equipment have made it attractive for facility managers to look at upgrades as a way to increase efficiency and reliability as well as to support data center expansion.
But how can data center managers know exactly which equipment they need and when is the right time to upgrade? The following questions are critical to ask when evaluating your need for new power-distribution equipment in the data center.
Question 1: How Are Current Investments Meeting Your Power Needs?
The first question to ask when considering whether to upgrade power-distribution equipment is the simplest one: how is your current equipment meeting your data center’s current needs?
Replacing aging power-distribution equipment with newer, more effective solutions requires an investment in time and resources (not to mention capital), so it’s important to thoroughly evaluate the products you’re currently using to distribute power throughout the facility and determine whether it’s up to the challenges you’re currently facing. And if, after reviewing current investments, you find that the products you’re using are adequately meeting your needs, it may not be worth upgrading right now.
On evaluation, however, you may uncover opportunities to more efficiently distribute power or free up valuable space that can be used for more revenue-generating equipment. In this case, it may be worth investing in new technology that better meets your needs while preparing your facility for future growth. For example, cable and conduit has long been an industry standard for distributing power throughout the data center, and for many data center managers, it still works just fine. In recent years, however, busway has emerged as an attractive alternative to cable and conduit solutions, offering several distinct advantages, including the following:
- Ease of installation. Installing cable and conduit is complex, labor-intensive work. Busway, by contrast, is a far simpler technology that most electricians with only rudimentary mechanical skills can assemble without expert help.
- Reduced implementation cost. Paying specialized electricians for the hours of effort required to bend and route conduit is a costly proposition. Facilities that use busway can save money.
- Space savings. Space is frequently at a premium in power facilities. Busway offers a compact technology relative to cable and conduit that leaves more room for other uses.
- Cost-effective adaptability. With busway, facilities installing new equipment can simply add new bus plugs to their existing busway, and companies that need to move equipment can quickly and easily reconfigure their existing busway or even replace feeder busway with plug-in busway where required. This flexibility provides minimal service interruption compared with a traditional cable solution.
Busway is an especially attractive solution for power-distribution systems that are likely to undergo frequent reconfiguration or evolve and expand over time.
Question 2: How Fast Is Your Data Center Growing?
Along similar lines, with the emergence of hyperconvergence and the shift of critical IT resources to virtual infrastructures, many data centers are expanding rapidly to support this growth. In such instances, new power-distribution equipment isn’t just worth considering. It’s essential to keeping the data center running efficiently and ensuring business continuity.
Fortunately, this approach also enables data center managers to strategically consider future scenarios and install technology that enables them to position for and protect against power outages and other situations that could be critical for the business.
For example, as the data center expands, it may be worth considering upgrading panelboards (which are used in smaller facilities to protect against electrical overloads and short circuits while distributing electricity throughout the facility) to switchboards or even low-voltage switchgear. For larger buildings or sites, a large single panel, frame or assembly of panels can be used for mounting overcurrent switches and protective devices, buses and other equipment. These freestanding solutions are most often accessible from the front, mounted on the floor and close to the wall.
In some cases, however, more highly functional low-voltage switchgear may be necessary to protect, control and monitor critical power-distribution systems safely and efficiently. Low-voltage switchgear provides central control and protection of low-voltage power equipment and circuits in commercial installation involving transformers, generators, motors and power-feeder circuits.
Switchboards and low-voltage switchgear are essential elements of a power-distribution strategy for large and multitenant data centers, so it’s important to ask yourself how quickly your data center is expanding and seek out these solutions to ensure you can support that growth.
Question 3: How Well Can Your Data Center Handle Power Outages?
Power outages are inevitable and, depending on where your facility is located, can be frequent owing to weather or a host of other factors. As we have already established, downtime due to power outages can be catastrophic for any data center, making it even more essential that your facility has the right equipment to help ensure continuity even in the event of an outage.
To do so, you should look at your installed power-distribution equipment to determine how well it can switch emergency power loads, and look at one particular piece of equipment specifically: transfer switches. Transfer switches are responsible for quickly and safely shifting all electrical power consumed by the circuit, equipment or systems between normal and emergency power sources, such as a generator or backup utility feed.
Yet there are myriad options and configurations when it comes to selecting and identifying transfer switches, so it’s important to ensure that the configuration in your facility is the right one to support your needs, or whether another transfer switch is a better fit.
Transfer switches can move loads between normal and emergency power sources in two basic ways: open or closed. An open switch breaks its connection to one power source before making a connection to the other. Open-delayed switches build in a short pause before the switch to prevent higher than normal electrical current (also known as “inrush current”) from developing. Open-in-phase switches automate this process with greater intelligence and precision.
In closed-transition solutions, the transfer switch makes a connection to the emergency power source before breaking its connection to the old one. In this case, downstream loads receive continuous power throughout the transfer process.
We haven’t even begun to discuss the different types of switching mechanisms available, or the different sub-types of circuit-breaker switching mechanisms data center managers can employ. Given this broad a range of options, it’s important for facility managers to look at their current switching-technology investments, ask how well equipped they are to handle outages and determine whether new technology may better position them to ensure business continuity during the inevitable outage.
It has never been more critical for data center managers to ensure continuous uptime. At the same time, advancements in power-distribution technology have made it desirable for managers to evaluate their current investments in this technology and determine whether upgrading to new solutions is advantageous for the business. If you are wondering whether new power-distribution technology can help improve efficiency in the data center or simply prepare you for the worst-case scenario, ask yourself these three key questions to help position your data center for future success.
About the Author
Mark Rumpel is a product-line manager in Eaton’s Electrical Sector, providing direction and leadership of the company’s Panelboard & Switchboard business. In this role, he is accountable for setting product-line strategy and direction through management of sales, marketing and design-engineering functions. He works closely with plant-operations leaders to achieve desired results in the major industry segments of data centers, commercial construction, health care, oil and gas, and general industry.