It is now a fundamental requirement of any datacentre business continuity plan that you protect the critical power path to mission sensitive IT systems. Predominantly this means installing uninterruptible power supplies and a suitably sized battery back-up power system with possibly a standby generator.
Datacentres have in the past received poor press for their energy usage and continue to do so as demand for electrical power continues. In the UK the average demand is already 60GW and this is expected to grow five fold by 2050, driven in part by datacentre growth as well as the adoption of electric vehicles and move away from carbon generating fuels such as gas and oil.
Several trade associations within the datacentre industries have introduced energy efficiency benchmarking and monitoring ratios. Of these Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) is the most widely adopted one but it fails to provide a measure of the actual ‘work’ or output of a datacentre which in itself can be hard to measure. However, PUE does provide a way of tracking energy usage over time as it compares the total IT power consumption compared to the total facility usage.
As datacentre managers have focused on efficiency so have all the hardware suppliers into the industry. The claim to offer the latest high efficiency systems is now commonplace whether you are looking to purchase an uninterruptible power supply, CRAC, air handler or file servers. Manufacturers have also innovated to find new ways to improve operating efficiency. Eco-Mode is one such approach which essentially reduces operational losses whilst reducing operational performance. In a UPS system, Eco Mode can allow an on-line UPS to run at 99% by pushing it into a standby or line interactive.
The premier and global players within the datacentre industry like Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google are leaders in both energy efficiency and also the adoption of renewable power technologies. They have made ‘green’ power usage an essential part of their facilities whether purchasing electricity generated from hydro, wind or solar farm plants from energy aggregators to installing on-site generation from fuel cells.
In other parts of the datacentre industry, the introduction of ‘Eco’ into the critical power path is less obvious. For some organisations it may simply be ‘Greenwash; but for others it is a strategic and operational aim to change an organisation’s usage of electrical power and lower its overall carbon footprint.
The first step in any energy efficiency improvement plan is to look at where energy is being wasted – so called ‘vampire’ energy. Energy can simply be lost when equipment is powered and/or idle or under utilized. This can then be stripped out and working practices reviewed to improve overall energy usage. The next step is to look at where legacy systems within the critical power path can be upgraded to more energy efficient ones.
UPS systems are classic example of this. Much of the installed base is pre-recession and from the start of the internet boom. Typical operating efficiencies are within the 85-92% band and with batteries coming to their end of life, an upgrade to a more eco friendly uninterruptible power supply can not only save energy but offer a reduced footprint, new warranties and governmental tax incentives.
When upgrading a UPS system there are also now a wider number of options to choose from in terms of power backup. No longer are UPS systems tied solely to lead acid batteries. Other developments include lithium-ion batteries, fuel cells, compressed air generators and flywheels. All eco alternatives that can introduce a truly environmental element into the critical power path in the form of ECO UPS systems and help an organisation prepare for the rapidly approaching smart-grid.