The data center and IT landscape is fast-changing and innovation-driven. There is a constant pressure to save time, save money, and enhance efficiencies — all while keeping systems up and running. Additionally, a global emphasis on sustainability has created an imperative to improve energy efficiency while powering mission-critical infrastructure.
Because power management is so critical to operations, it’s no surprise that downtime can be a major issue. According to Eaton’s 2016 Blackout Tracker report, there were 3,879 reported outages last year. In the U.S., power interruptions in the data center cost a staggering $740,357, average per event! By investing in the latest backup power solutions, IT and data center professionals can slash the risks and consequences of future outages while maintaining a low total cost of ownership (TCO).
While Energy Action Month wrapped up in October, data center managers shouldn’t stop looking for ways to become more efficient. In this article, we’ll explore a few recent developments in power solutions that are helping organizations address efforts in sustainability while also improving efficiency and lowering energy costs.
ENHANCED PDU AND UPS SOLUTIONS
The modern data center is under intense pressure on many fronts. While information is increasingly important to organizations in all industries, data center operating budgets don’t always keep the same pace. Sometimes facilities must operate more efficiently while under pressure to meet more demands under stagnant budgets. The goal for data center managers is to find a balance between energy efficiency and reducing downtime as much as possible.
High-level power distribution strategies are needed to find this type of equilibrium and ensure peak efficiency. Thankfully, there’s a new generation of advanced rack power distribution units (PDUs) that offer data centers comprehensive functionality that allows them to address their pressing operational needs.
Today’s data centers are strapped to keep cooling costs down, particularly with many modern hot-air solutions requiring higher rack PDU operating temperatures. With UL-rated rack PDUs, data centers can gain function at high operating temperatures as high as 60°C, and help keep a lid on cooling costs for better energy efficiency. Their capabilities can accurately identify where heat is building in the data center, allowing data center managers to respond accordingly.
Given the budget and resource constraints faced by many data centers, rack PDUs designed to reduce administrative overhead and provide ease-of-installation are also key components in creating an efficiently operating data center. For example, rack PDUs with mass configuration and updating capabilities can free up data center staff. Additionally, rack PDUs that are easy to install save data center managers time and money on startup and provisioning costs.
Efficiency also remains a key requirement for today’s uninterruptible power supply (UPS) platforms as well. Advanced capabilities allow modern UPSs to perform up to 99% efficiency in eco-mode and around 97% efficiency even in traditional double conversion mode. In the coming year, vendors across the board expect to be able to compete with the higher efficiency operation levels, allowing data centers to continue to increase efficiency.
The implementation of new silicon carbide (SiC) technology provides users with a newer transistor system that can allow UPSs to perform at 98% efficiency even without eco-mode. As we see the implementation of these new technologies continue to increase, every data center will be deploying efficient solutions in the future and the conversation will become more geared towards how systems can minimize other components of TCO, like service and maintenance costs, and even floor space usage.
Energy-efficient UPSs can also help address harmonic currents, which is another factor that can influence power costs and consumption. More recently, harmonic-mitigating UPSs that are specifically designed to correct power factor and balance loads while in energy-saver mode have begun to reach the market. These new systems typically remain within 1% of energy- saver levels while performing these functions, providing significant efficiency improvements.
LITHIUM-ION BATTERY TECHNOLOGY
Lithium-ion batteries have evolved considerably in recent years. Though commonly used in cell phones and laptops, lithium-ion batteries are capable of performing the same functions as lead acid batteries in industrial settings or data centers, while offering significant additional benefits. The historically pricey lithium has changed dramatically and is now a cost-effective consideration for UPS platforms. It’s now possible to buy a lithium battery system for the same price as a valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) battery.
Lithium-ion batteries save 60% on size and 40% on weight while offering a much higher expected service life compared to conventional UPS batteries. A typical lithium-ion battery lasts 10 to 15 years whereas a conventional UPS battery lasts around five to six years. Additionally, lithium-ion batteries have a high life cycle, meaning they can be charged and discharged more often without wearing out. This capability allows users to consider new applications such as grid sharing, peak shaving, and even deployment in microgrids.
Today’s lithium-ion battery solutions also provide enhanced safety, eliminating concern over thermal events. In fact, lithium ion for UPS systems is designed like an electric car battery with multiple levels of safety protections, built in management, and sturdy packaging. Though heavier and larger than those used for phones and laptops, these are the safest lithium batteries and boast big benefits when it comes to thermal performance, battery cycle life, and maximizing power capacity.
It’s worth noting that lithium-ion is not the only new battery chemistry that holds promise for UPS applications. Nickel zinc, sodium sulfur, and even saltwater batteries are currently being tested with UPS systems. These chemistries offer excellent performance and an even better safety profile than either lead or lithium-ion.
NEXT-GENERATION POWER MONITORING AND MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE
Upgrades to power monitoring and management software allow data center and IT professionals to optimize power to critical components while saving time, money, and reducing risk. Instead of relying on manual, reactive monitoring efforts, it’s now possible to achieve real-time monitoring and predictive analytics.
Next-generation power monitoring solutions combine comprehensive analytics, advanced workflows, and domain expertise — enabling maintenance, troubleshooting, and repairs to be much more data-driven. This capability also allows facilities to predict component failures in power equipment days or weeks before they occur, reducing the risk of an outage due to equipment failure. This can ultimately save a data center millions of dollars a year.
We’re seeing power monitoring move from a reactive to proactive model via these capabilities. As innovation continues to expand, data center managers will be able to accurately predict component failures in power equipment days to weeks before they occur. For example, an administrator can be alerted to a potential issue through battery health indicators, reducing the risk of outage due to battery failure.
No matter how big or small the facility, power management is an important element for organizations to consider in keeping electrical systems running and on track with goals in areas like sustainability. By harnessing technological innovations in power management solutions like UPSs, PDUs, and power monitoring software, data center and IT managers can improve efficiency while enhancing their sustainability efforts. With the right strategy, facilities will be lowering operational costs as they contribute towards a greener environment.