T-Rex and Emax

The Emax 2 breaker is an evolutionary step to help data centers avoid catastrophic events by “failing small”

The Cretaceous-Tertiary extinction event is the name given to the die-off of dinosaurs and other species some 65.5 million years ago. It theorizes that a comet, asteroid or meteor impact may have caused their annihilation.

In nature, the forces of evolution consistently work to avoid unexpected events that produce big failures. While it is possible a stray asteroid could decimate an entire animal population, for the most part evolution is powered by incremental changes that improve species before their flaws produce catastrophes. The evolution of data centers is trending in the same direction. The guiding imperative of data center DNA has become, “Fail small.”

No business today can afford to lose huge portions of its data center capacity to a massive failure caused by a faulty piece of infrastructure equipment or by power fluctuations. Rather, the goal is to isolate failures to the fewest number of servers, the smallest collection of control devices, the shortest segment of network operations.

Just as nature thrives on diversifying its creations to help protect them from extinction, data center operators are distributing their power protection and power supplies to diverse locations throughout the facility. That is why, for example, UPS devices can much more frequently be found providing emergency backup power and improving power quality within rows of server racks than collected in a big room outside where a single point of failure could wipe them all out.

The mandate to “fail small” has prompted ABB to accelerate the evolution of one of the smaller, but most vital, components of data centers: circuit breakers. The family of SACE Emax 2 low-voltage air circuit breakers from ABB was introduced two years ago in Europe and last year in the United States as the next technology for protecting data centers in ways that inhibit big failures and allow small malfunctions to be repaired quickly without any significant disruptions to operations.

It is a single box that not only houses the breakers but also intelligently manages the distribution of power so that high power demands do not produce big equipment failures. An administrator can choose a peak power limit, and Emax 2 will automatically ensure that power remains below that limit. It achieves this control by disconnecting low-priority devices—such as electric-car charging stations, lighting or refrigeration units—until demand drops sufficiently and then automatically turns them back on again. At the same time, it can activate generators on its own to bring more power into the data center.

Emax 2 best demonstrates its evolved prowess, however, in circumstances where other breakers might contribute to big failures. For example, all the accessory wiring that may be required is preassembled, molded into the case of the breaker. Most important, all of its components are standardized. If any component fails, a replacement can be dropped into the unit quickly and safely, dramatically shortening the mean time to repair.

Emax 2 reduces the mean time between failures, as well. For instance, the contacts in power circuit breakers are designed to be replaced over time. Some traditional air breakers have a contact life of a few hundred full-current operations, but Emax 2 is built for thousands of such operations, optimizing maintenance activities. Moreover, Emax 2 employs a contact life algorithm that eliminates the need for the traditional operations counter. It can be set to signal at, for example, 85 percent contact wear so that the main contacts can be inspected long before any issues may occur.

Another benefit of Emax 2 is that it speaks the language of new data centers as well as existing ones. Among its compatible protocols are Ethernet and peer-to-peer IEC 61850 technology. In fact, Emax 2 is the only low-voltage breaker on the market capable of communicating via IEC 61850. With 61850, Emax 2 breakers can talk directly with each other.

The 61850 protocol is fast becoming the preferred technology for smart grids and renewables-based microgrids, because its peer-to-peer nature can make it faster to react.

Emax 2 offers brilliance in a box. It is simple and elegant, and consumes far less real estate than conventional switchgear in a data center. Available in four sizes, Emax 2 occupies from just one cubic foot to less than three cubic feet. It is the next big evolutionary step for small data-center elements that soon will make conventional systems look like dinosaurs.

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About the author

Dave Sterlace

Dave Sterlace is the Head of Technology for Data Center Solutions at ABB, and has 20+ years of experience in data center power, automation and critical power.
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