Everyone has experienced power outages on the job. For many people, the cost of losing power is usually confined to a minimal amount of time and data.
For some, the loss of power—even just a few minutes—has much more significant consequences. Financial and healthcare companies can experience critical data loss or corruption, and the facilities that house these companies can experience considerable damage to building control systems. To protect data and ensure continuity of power, facilities and data centers turn to uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems and generators as part of a series of redundancy backup infrastructures.
Are you adequately protected for the next power outage? There are several variables that determine a building’s vulnerability to outages and dictate what steps need to be taken to protect data and infrastructure. Here are a few things you should know.
• Location, location, location. Learn about the power history in your region or city. Survey the power company and find out just how many hits it has.
• Some regions have very reliable power systems. In the past 13 years, Boston has only had one outage, but 60 miles away in Merrimack, NH, it’s a different story. Because the power lines are overhead and not underground, they have had several outages.
• Ask questions. Ask your utility company how robust your capabilities are; also ask about its history of restoring power quickly in your building or in similar buildings in your business district.
• Know your exposure. For outages that only last a few seconds, less expensive UPS systems at a desk may protect a majority of your employees. If you’re protecting critical records that are susceptible to data corruption, you may need to invest in a more centralized UPS system and possibly a generator.
• Take advantage of opportunities. Even if you’re a facility manager in a Class A building, you can’t assume that all your departments have the same sensitivity to power outages. There may even be an opportunity to sell premium power backed by UPS systems and generators to tenants who may occupy space in your building.
Sawyer is principal with EYP Mission Critical Facilities, based in New York, NY.
Protecting Against The Inevitable
Power outages are often due to environmental factors—hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms, or thunderstorms—or other unpredictable usage spikes that cause blackouts or brownouts. AFCOM, the association for data center professionals, predicts that over the next five years, power failures and limits on power availability will halt data center operations at more than 90% of all companies.
Rick Sawyer, principal with EYP Mission Critical Facilities, believes that the recent series of blackouts, including the outage in August 2003 which left approximately two-thirds of the country without power, is a sign of things to come. “As a country, we’ve done very little to address innate power capacity,” says Sawyer. “We do have new power plants coming online, but we have not had a major increase in our ability to deliver electrical power.”
Sawyer explains that there are several reasons for this, such as a lack of major upgrades in the transmission lines tying the network together and the fact that utilities are under severe cost cutting pressure, causing them to outsource and minimize maintenance on transmission facilities. With more outages predicted, UPS and other backup infrastructures are helping protect companies from future outages. The JP Morgan Chase building in Chicago, IL, a 58-story multi-tenant building, is using Siemens APOGEE® Building Automation System to help protect both the bank and building operations.
Richard Attanaseo, field project manager, building automation division with Siemens Building Technologies, Inc., explains the multi-layered protection of the system. “While the UPS system in the building is mainly for the bank, we also use the UPS for the building control system. We keep all the systems monitored throughout the building and bank and maintain all the alarms and temperature control for the building.”
By constantly monitoring the power, the kilowatts being used, and significant phase differential, the facilities team is able to pinpoint problems that might be coming up. If a power outage occurs, available energy is directed to critical needs.
A 40 minute power outage on Halloween in 2006 put the building’s system to the test. The result was a successful coverage with no data loss or corruption.
The JP Morgan Chase building is one example of a data center that is housed in an office building, which is actually not uncommon. Sawyer sees a landscape where much of the critical power demands are being met in the office building, as opposed to off site facilities.
“If you look at the market, 80% of data centers in the U.S. are 80 kilowatts or less; those smaller data centers tend to be located in standard commercial office buildings,” he explains.
Having the infrastructure to support critical power needs may give building managers an advantage in tenant recruitment if they can sell premium power to tenants when excess space is available. “You can put a power premium on the amount of square feet or load they want to protect in that area and get a premium on the rent,” says Sawyer. “There’s a lot of incentive for people to buy that.”
For data centers large or small, one of the biggest challenges is keeping up with the speed of technology. Tom Rooney is the eastern division regional director of McGraw Hill Global Real Estate Services. A new data center in Hightstown, NJ, is among the data centers in his region.
Today’s business demands are forcing facility managers to support more equipment and applications in the data center while still providing an operating network synonymous with availability and reliability. As this occurs, facility managers should be aware of five technology trends impacting their daily responsibilities.
1. Increasing strategic importance of data center. The IT infrastructure has evolved into an interdependent business critical network with the data center as the hub. More applications are being consolidated in the data center, elevating it into a key corporate asset, increasing attention on it from the corporate level. This is driving the need for greater flexibility of the physical infrastructure balanced against availability demands and lowest total cost of ownership.
2. Growth in IT equipment capacity and density are shortening data center life cycles. Aggressive corporate growth plans, along with the use of new, more powerful server technologies are pushing data centers to their limits. The increase in the density of the equipment that populates data centers is straining available power and cooling capacity, causing the data center life cycle to shrink. According to a 2006 Data Center Users’ Group (DCUG) survey, 96% of current facilities are projected to be at their capacity by 2011.
Many facilities have the physical space to add more equipment but lack the power and cooling capacity to support that equipment. To overcome this obstacle, facility managers need to focus on designing for higher densities and employing adaptive IT infrastructures that allow greater flexibility to adapt to change.
3. Energy costs are driving up operating expenses and attracting government scrutiny. The high density systems are forcing an increased emphasis on energy efficiency. Forty-two percent of the respondents of the DCUG survey said they have either analyzed efficiency or are currently examining it.
Data center power consumption has also gained the attention of the federal government. The U.S. EPA recently released an extensive report on data center efficiency that recommended potential incentives and voluntary programs to help increase the energy efficiency of data centers. For more information on the report, visit www.energystar.gov/datacenters.
4. Monitoring technologies are creating new opportunities to improve management and planning. Recent advances in critical space monitoring technologies have made it a vital tool to help facility managers gain necessary insight into the performance and needs of their data center. They can help increase the reliability of data center equipment and lower the possibility of expensive downtime. Analyzing and leveraging data from monitoring systems will prove valuable to facility managers as the spotlight from the executive offices continues to shine on the data center.
By enhancing these monitoring systems with preventive maintenance and/or service agreements, facility managers also can greatly improve downtime recovery and uptime assurance.
5. The pace of change is accelerating, and technologies that help drive business results are changing rapidly and often unpredictably. The ability to adapt to change is critical to continued success.
It’s important for facility managers to work with IT professionals to achieve a dynamic critical infrastructure whereby an enterprise can address and manage rapid changes in technologies and business environments.
Stack is vice president of marketing for the Columbus, OH-based Liebert business division of Emerson Network Power.
“Facilities in general are trying to keep up with the wave of technology that is advancing faster than changes in HVAC innovations and electrical infrastructure,” explains Rooney. “Companies are often tasked with reassessing their facilities and redesigning to meet higher kilowatt demands.” The trick is designing a facility that’s flexible and maintainable, despite changes in technology, but doesn’t break the bank.
Catch 22: Power For Power
The promise of reliable power comes at a cost that’s about more than just the price tag. The Catch 22 of redundancy backup systems is that facilities have to use more power to ensure against outages. Simply providing the necessary cooling for the systems may actually cause a drain on power.
“There is a large percentage of data centers out there that use more power and energy to cool and to maintain the servers at an appropriate level,” says Jamie Man, director of information technology with Health Care Excel (HCE) in Indianapolis, IN. “It takes a lot of energy to charge the power distribution units (PDUs) or maintain the batteries to run the cooling systems that support the environments in place. You have to have the power to be able to run the systems, and you have to have the infrastructure to support it.”
HCE requires that critical infrastructure, because it audits and reviews Medicare and Medicaid claims for federal and state governments and handles prior authorizations for patients. Because the company may be called upon at any time to give doctors prior authorization for patients, it needs systems running 24/7. But perhaps more importantly, the company needs to ensure that if there is an outage, the data is not corrupted.
Most UPS systems can guarantee power continuity for approximately 30 minutes to an hour. This doesn’t seem like a long time, especially considering outages caused by natural disasters and even blackouts are not measured in minutes, but in hours and sometimes days. The real test of the UPS system is not how long it keeps the power running. Rather, does it bridge power long enough for the engineers either to crank up the generators or shut down the systems gracefully to avoid data corruption?
Companies like HCE must use the power required to maintain the critical power infrastructure. However, there is a growing move toward energy efficient systems. Data centers are, by definition, massive consumers of power; they wouldn’t be doing their job if they weren’t. In fact, the idea of a “green” data center is almost an oxymoron, but there are organizations out there pulling the plug, so to speak, on consumption levels.
In 2005, the Fannie Mae Urbana Technology Center in Urbana, MD, became the first data center to receive the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification. By following ENERGY STAR® equipment guidelines and striving for energy efficiency in operations at every turn—electrical, mechanical, and computer systems—the data center was able to reduce overall energy consumption by 20%.
Implementing energy efficiency practices may be more important than ever, considering the strain on the grid and the energy demands of critical power systems. Sawyer sees the energy efficiency payback as two-fold: it’s cheaper to operate, and more power is being freed up.
“If I’m 10% more efficient,” he concludes, “I can put 10% more equipment into a building with the same infrastructure than I could if I wasn’t as efficient.” Sawyer points out that increasing efficiency by even a few percentage points can make a difference. “People don’t realize that in the U.S., 60% of power is consumed by buildings. If buildings got just five or six percent more efficient in total, we would be able to support that much more load with no increases in infrastructure.”
The demand for critical power is predicted to keep growing. Systems and infrastructure are constantly evolving to meet this demand, but more power is also needed. In order to power up the next time the lights go out, facility managers and building owners may first have to power down.
Padavano is the chairman and chief elected officer of BOMA International and chief operating officer of Advance Realty Group of Bedminster, NJ.