Data Centers need industrial strength power and control

ABB - uniquely positioned in the market to bring ‘industrial-strength’ power and automation solutions to the world of data centers

So what does this mean? It means a transition is taking place from boutique, tailor-made ‘data workshops’ to fully-fledged ‘data factories’, which are larger, both in terms of power systems and complexity and more akin to industrial plants or process industries. Of course there is no tangible product, just flashes of light, but if those flashes are interrupted the same costly ramifications exist, making it every bit as expensive (if you’ll excuse the pun) as a shutdown and restart at a cement or pharmaceutical manufacturing plant.

This is where ABB can bring ‘industrial-strength’ power and automation experience to the world of data centers, and this is already paying off for our customers.

So what are the keys to this? How can ABB help your data center?



First up – intelligent grid connection. ABB have long been pioneers in the electrical power grid and the technology required to help our customers connect to that grid, globally. In the past decades, we’ve also been early innovators of smart grid, microgrid, and integrating renewable energy into the grid. In transmission, we pioneered HVDC for connecting generation to point of use, a technology that becomes more important each day. Keep in mind, the very idea of a smart grid is disruptive. Take aging infrastructure, designed for one way operation of power (from generation to utilization) and make it somehow intelligent, and able to communicate in order to isolate and minimize faults as well as route power in new, more reliable ways. ABB’s pioneering efforts with the utility industry standard IEC 61850 peer to peer protocol pay dividends. As data centers get larger, and need to integrate multiple power sources as well as grid power, this expertise will be invaluable.

Next up- elastic critical infrastructure. ABB’s entire portfolio is designed for modularity, from components like circuit breakers, UPS systems, all the way through to our engineered solutions like substations – each a modular system. One of the best recent examples is our ConceptPower DPA500 UPS. It’s built on what we call ‘decentralized parallel architecture’ and is, to my knowledge, the only truly modular UPS on the market. Many competitors offer a modular UPS, but that means they have the ability to add, remove, or change the power electronics in case of expansion, contraction, or maintenance. Ours offers this as well, but goes further to make the control system and bypass swappable as well. This allows data center clients to add to their critical loads, as needed, as well as enabling them to be frugal on day one expense of critical power provisioning.

Finally- deep component visibility. Believe it or not, data centers are a bit behind in terms of automating their operations. Many, perhaps the majority, do their planning with excel files. Power usage data is primarily discrete components that aren’t always aggregated in a meaningful way. Control systems are both vendor and component specific. Once common sight in a typical data center control room is the ‘mouse wiggle’ to determine which of the 5 or 6 independent control subsystems (like UPS, generator paralleling, building management, etc) you’re looking at. We think this may have to do with the fact that the industry grew out of computer ‘closets’ in commercial office space and hasn’t quite kept up with the times. When looked at from an industrial control perspective, there has been a shift towards DCIM (data center infrastructure management) but so far in implementation it’s really for IT equipment and planning, despite the goal of a ‘single plane of glass’ to orchestrate the entire data center. Our DDC (decathlon for data centers) expands on this with power and cooling visibility, and allows far better visibility, with open protocols to integrate existing equipment and systems. Interestingly, we feel that now, with our peer to peer communication (IEC 61850) capabilities in components like ABB’sEmax circuit breakers, we can go from the DCIM system controlling or supervising software to having real time interaction with the subsystem (like a UPS breaker) itself.

I hope this gives some insight into the enviable position we’re in for data centers. Our list of successes is based not only on the hard work of our teams globally, but also built on a century’s worth of industrial control heritage at ABB.

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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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