Power outages are the bane of data processors, causing all kinds of problems in their wake. Even a momentary interruption in the flow of electricity can wreak havoc with data center systems, software, or operations. These events are much more than just a nuisance, because the effects can be far-reaching and very costly. Recurring blackouts pose the greatest danger of all, especially for an enterprise that relies upon the flow of information to serve its customers.
When a company is a premier provider of data services, its clients entrust it with their business lifeline. Maintaining the highest level of service is always the foremost priority. Regardless of the circumstances, customers must remain operational, without the slightest interruption. Having reliable backup power is essential.
Quilogy is a multi-service information technology (IT) provider located in the downtown area of historic Saint Charles, MO, just 20 miles west of St. Louis. The company, founded in 1992, is a National Systems Integrator that helps clients to enhance their business by delivering innovative technology solutions. With a special focus on serving the public sector, as well as health care, manufacturing, financial, and professional service enterprises, Quilogy has 14 offices nationwide.
Many of the downtown structures date from the 1800s, and some are pre-Civil War. Quilogy’s three-story headquarters building, built in 1878 as a bank, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This facility - one of six fully restored buildings that comprise the Quilogy campus - houses a variety of offices and the company’s all-important data center. To protect its business operations in the event of a utility outage, Quilogy uses an APC battery system and Generac QT Series generator to provide seamless short- and long-term backup power to keep the computers operating and the room properly cooled.
“Our data center is the nexus of all of our internal systems,” says Alan Groh, chief technology officer. “We also use it to host systems that have been developed for clients, as well as to provide server resources to our project teams working across the country. The adjacent operations center - a separate room - monitors all systems in the data center and keeps tabs on internet connectivity at all of our offices. The headquarters building is connected to an underground AT&T fiberoptic ring, and all of our nearby buildings are interconnected through Quilogy’s own fiber network that runs beneath the streets and sidewalks.”
Quilogy’s data center is a 950 square-foot climate-controlled solid floor room containing nine Dell server racks, one AT&T fiber cabinet and one SAN (storage area network). “The server racks are standard 42U racks, which are about 7 feet tall and 2 feet wide,” says Mike Howells, data center engineer. “Each rack holds anywhere from 10 to 16 Dell servers and contains two 3000-kilovolt-ampere APC redundant battery backup units beneath the computers. Currently, there are about 80 servers in the room. It’s outfitted with three-phase, four-wire electrical service so that we may take advantage of the newer blade servers being offered today. Those servers require 208-volt (V) service, which was not available in our old computer room. Each server is connected to a single rack via Category 5e Ethernet cable running at 1.0 gigabits per second for optimum performance. The modular nature of the rack design allows us to add capacity as our needs grow or change.”
The racks are arranged in a hot aisle/cold aisle format to maximize the cooling effectiveness of the air flow. “This design allows for the natural flow of cool air from above to filter into the front of each server,” Alan Grohs explains. “The hot air is then exhausted out the back of each rack and allowed to rise to the ceiling where it is returned to the air handler for cooling. The high ceilings in the room make the Trane cooling system even more effective. These ceilings are one of the benefits of being in an old building. Thus we have both a hot/cold horizontal aisle arrangement, as well as hot/cold vertical planes.”
In late 2005, Quilogy moved its data center from a smaller room of the building to a new and significantly larger area. At the same time, the capacity of the data center was expanded to three times that of the previous one in terms of power capacity, redundant cooling capacity, and the floor space to add more racks in the future.
Quilogy’s previous backup generator was a 25-kilowatt Generac Guardian natural gas-model that had been in service since 2000, which had performed well during outages. The new data center required a new larger unit. Both the facility design firm and a general contractor recommended diesel generators from other manufacturers, but Groh wanted to consider other options. After learning about the Generac QT Series, he was convinced that it was a superior solution, combining the numerous advantages of natural gas (no refueling, storage, spillage, spoilage, or odor) with a lower capital cost. “Our experience with the gaseous-fueled Guardian unit was favorable, so there was no reason to make a change,” Groh says. “By selecting the QT model, we easily saved more than $10,000 when compared to the diesel alternatives. It was an easy decision.”
The Generac QT 130 kilowatt model has capacity to satisfy Quilogy’s evolving power requirements. The QT 130 can handle the upgraded 400-A, 208-V three phase electrical requirements. With Quilogy located in an historical area with shops and offices nearby, sound was another important factor in the decision to purchase the QT model. Because of its sound-attenuated enclosure and advanced airflow design, the generator is among the quietest in its class when operating under load. During weekly exercise, the Quiet-Test feature operates the gen set at a slower speed, making it even quieter. “Our generator is so quiet during the self-test that a person can not tell that it’s running without standing directly next to the unit,” says Mike Howells.
Generac offers its QT products through several distribution channels. Quilogy’s purchase was made through Chicago-area distributor A.P. Electric. A new concrete pad was poured in December of 2005, and the unit was installed that month. In January, the electrical and gas contractors completed their hookups, and Luby Equipment Services, the St. Louis-area Generac industrial dealer performed the initial startup. As part of the process, the main gas service was upgraded to facilitate greater flow to the generator, which included installation of a larger regulator on the incoming gas line.
For a time, the old and new data centers operated in parallel, with both generators on standby. In March, Quilogy completed its switchover to the new data center, with the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) batteries and QT generator providing seamless backup power. A 15-second (s) switch to the backup generator minimizes the amount of time that the data center equipment runs on battery power.
With this integrated system, Quilogy’s mission critical functions remain operational in the event of a utility power failure. The size of the QT unit is also sufficient to accommodate future growth. Currently, the gen set is supporting 20 tons of air conditioning load and 80 computer servers. Outside the data center, the generator provides emergency power to computer stations in the operations center, as well as internal fiber communication systems, routing, and switching equipment.
The wisdom of Quilogy’s decision to purchase this system was soon proven as a series of severe weather and other events caused no less than a dozen power outages over the next 18 months. Eight outages - including one that lasted more than 6 hours - occurred in 2006 and four more happened in 2007. The first one shut down power just a week after the new gen set became the primary backup, and the second one took place four days later. With the succession of blackouts that followed, it wasn’t long before the generator had paid for itself - and then some.
According to Mike Howells, during each outage the QT generator supplied backup power within 15 s and operated perfectly without incident. The 25-kW Guardian unit, still hooked up to the former data center room, provided auxiliary power to the outlets there, enabling the creation of a makeshift work center during the longest of the outages.
Quilogy’s experience shows the wisdom and value of having dependable standby power. After enduring repeated outages and coming through them so smoothly, Quilogy has enhanced its reputation as a reliable service supplier. “Operating a data center requires 24/7 availability,” Mike Howells says, “and our clients depend on us to provide uninterrupted service. Downtime, even for a short duration, can be very costly. Our investment in a backup generator allowed us to provide seamless operation through the worst outages in our city’s history.”