Is your data center facility prepared for a natural disaster? Can you rest assured the power will stay on and all essential systems will continue working at optimum levels? For businesses with sensitive components, such as data centers and financial institutions, a loss of primary power can have devastating economic effects. May 7–13 was Hurricane Preparedness Week. The start of hurricane season is around the corner, and it’s important that your data center is prepared should a hurricane make landfall near your location. Even if the facility isn’t located on the coastline, hurricanes can bring damaging floods, winds and tornadoes to inland areas. More so, these recommendations are a guide to preparedness for any natural disaster that has the potential to knock out your primary power source.
Backup Power Sources
The first thing any data center manager will want to do is make sure the facility has a backup generator that can powering all the necessary systems. Having the correct equipment in place, coupled with an assurance of proper functioning through regular servicing, will mitigate many risks associated with primary-power failure.
Before purchasing a backup generator, perform an audit of the facility’s power needs to ensure no loss of capabilities when the primary power goes out and backup power kicks in. Determine what you need to keep the data center operating—from heating to ventilation, AC systems and essential equipment. The facility manager should consult with local utility companies and building departments for a rundown on regulations that govern emergency power equipment. Additional considerations include choosing a fuel source—natural gas, diesel or liquefied petroleum—and the cost and availability of those sources.
Hurricanes and similar large storms don’t typically wipe out infrastructure, but they can cause widespread power outages for long periods of time. Tornadoes, on the other hand, can wipe out the infrastructure and create major delays in getting primary power working again. Having backup power when a natural disaster occurs, be it for an hour or for a week, is not just for peace of mind but for critical needs as well.
A data center’s facility manager must ensure the backup generator is regularly serviced according to the manufacturer’s and distributor’s recommendations. Doing so typically involves some combination of monthly, quarterly, semiannual and annual inspections and maintenance. Having the generator serviced regularly will temper many of the problems that can occur, particularly when a disaster is imminent. The following are the components a technician will inspect during a routine generator service:
- Belts—check for wear and tear
- Cooling system—inspect for proper coolant levels
- Block heater—check for ideal operation
- Engine-oil levels—check and maintain
- Fuel system—inspected for leaks and cracks
- Batteries—check for loose connections, corrosion and general condition
- Gauges and control panels—inspect for warning lights and broken gauges
- Battery charger—look over for proper operation
Annual and semiannual services are much more detailed. They include regular preventative maintenance of systems throughout the generator. Semiannual services include inspection and maintenance for the following:
- Cooling system
- Fuel system
- Air induction and exhaust
- Lube oil system
- Starting system
- Engine monitors, safety controls and control panel
- Generator/Gas engines
- Automatic transfer switch
Annual services include (where applicable) the following:
- Change oil and filters
- Change fuel filters
- Maintain water separator
- Scheduled Oil Sampling
- Lubricate fan pulley
- Grease generator bearings
- Take coolant sample
It’s also recommended that generators go through annual load-bank testing if the unit doesn’t run at 50 percent or greater load at least one hour monthly. Load-bank testing will eliminate wet stacking by burning off unused fuel, oil and carbon in the cylinders and exhaust system. It will also exercise and test the unit’s fuel and cooling systems and evaporate moisture from inside the generator and engine.
Additionally, regularly ensure the transfer switch is functioning properly. Depending on your network of facilities, have a plan in place to deploy mobile generators to sites without permanent backup generators. Mobile generators should follow the same service schedules as stationary backup generators.
A phone call to the service provider should be the first step in the event of imminent danger. The provider will walk the data center manager through the necessary steps. They will include firing up the generator and checking for any fault codes. Whether it’s a diesel or natural-gas generator, make sure you have fuel or the gas line is working properly. Additional checks to the transfer switch will ensure the backup power will kick in the moment primary power goes down.
With hurricane season starting June 1, it’s important that your facility is prepared should a disaster occur in your area. Hurricanes are just one of the many disasters that can knock out power. Ensure the lights stay on and all systems are working properly with a backup generator that has been properly serviced and maintained.
About the Author
Clayton Costello is operations manager at CK Power, a manufacturer and supplier of power-generation equipment.