Smarter devices enable smarter data centers

Why are data center owners embracing smarter power control and distribution devices?

When I called on data center operators in the recent past, some of them wondered why they should spend time talking to a company that mainly provides utilities and industrial customers with  electric power distribution and control equipment. Today, the light is beginning to come on for our data center customers. They increasingly understand that, as huge power users, they actually have several significant things in common with utilities and industrials.

Data center managers are increasingly interested in power management, in addition to their never-ending quest for near-perfect uptime. That’s because the cost of power continues to be a bigger and bigger slice of a data center’s operating expenses, much more than it is for most production or process plants.

Where does the efficiency come from in data center power management? It starts with one of the smallest components in a power system: the lowly breaker. You’re not going to save any money with more-efficient breakers. In terms of power consumption, they are basically the same as a terminal block. Power comes in and, as long as the breaker is closed, the same power goes out.

The efficiency comes from breakers, like our Emax 2, evolving from what’s basically an On/Off switch to an intelligent device at the front lines of your power network. These breakers include built-in metering that provides really useful information to center operators about power use and quality. They can even help diagnose equipment issues. The breaker’s waveform-capture capability, for example, could reveal a power phase shift that indicates a problem in a motor in your HVAC system.

Getting that information to the control center and beyond is easier than ever because the Emax 2 incorporates the communication capabilities specified in the IEC 61850 standard. The standard basically enables any compliant device to be able to talk to any other compliant device, tearing down the Tower of Babel that existed prior to the standard. That makes aggregating the data from smart devices, like the Emax 2 breaker as well as switchgear, transformers, and other assets much easier. Considering that even a relatively small, 2 mW data center will have several hundred breakers, that’s a pretty big potential pool of data.

Another advantage of using IEC 61850-compliant devices is that it creates huge initial and ongoing savings when it comes to connecting the devices. Point-to-point wires to each device are replaced by a vastly smaller number of fiber-optic connections. In one instance, we reduced 2,000 wires to 200.

Imagine the cost reduction of installing one tenth as many wires when building a new data center. Imagine the reduction in connection issues and maintenance activities if you had one tenth as many wires to troubleshoot. The smart power-control devices do cost a bit more up front, but that’s clearly a good investment since construction cost is about 10% of the total cost of ownership for a data center. Once those smarter devices are in place, you’ll see reduced energy costs and fewer maintenance issues for the life of the center.

Data center managers operate warehouses full of smart-data storage and routing devices. They understand the value of intelligent technology. For data centers, our new mantra is “intelligent data needs intelligent power.” As data center managers learn more about how they can reduce their costs, increase their reliability, and improve their efficiency by embracing smarter power control and distribution devices, they will be more and more interested in adding smarter electrical devices to their facilities.

ABB Data center Solutions

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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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