Resilient Data Centres: Keep the Data Flowing…
As the hubs for handling client data that could be anything from payroll information to active web sites to e-mail services, data centres are crucial to many businesses and organizations. A power failure will not only disrupt centre operations, but also any damages will cascade over to the clients and cause potentially catastrophic losses. However, even for a technology-based company, it often takes a blackout to emphasize how truly dependent their operations are on electricity (and thus bring home the need for power contingency planning).
Data Centres & Energy Resiliency: What’s at Stake?
Potential damages or losses from a power failure could include:
- Failure of servers and potential data corruption
- Loss of cooling and ventilation systems
- Inability to access (or leave) areas controlled by keyless entry doors
- Inability to contact clients and make them aware of the situation
- Potential legal liabilities resulting from lost or corrupted client data
- A wide variety of disruptions to clients depending on what they make use of your data centre for; this, in turn, will negatively impact your client's customers and, through the client, their anger will migrate up to you
As a result, a data centre needs a power outage contingency plan not only to protect their own interests, but also to safeguard the interests of their clients. An effective contingency plan takes into account your centre's location and priority on the power grid, making sure your backup generator can keep pace with hardware upgrades and securing relationships with vendors to provide fuel or rental systems for extended outage scenarios.
Understand the Grid
Every power company will experience some sort of failure regardless of cause, whether it is from natural disasters, aging infrastructure, or a mechanical error. Hydro companies monitor their lines through various sensing means and are capable of knowing the downed/affected areas, including total kVA loss from the grid. However, they wouldn’t know which specific equipment or devices are impacted.
So, don’t assume that your utility company will automatically know the impact of the outage to your operations and equipment. Keeping your provider's contact information readily available means easy access in order to report power shortages or outages.
Learning your data centre's place on the power grid and whether you share the sector with any critical or high-priority infrastructure will give you a sense of what your priority will be for repairs in the event of more widespread power failures. Communicate with your utility provider to get estimates of how long repairs might take to begin in various blackout scenarios. You can also obtain this information online at your utility company’s web site, or you can find links for major utilities here as well.
Know Your Generator
Most, if not all, power outage contingencies involve the use of a backup generator until primary power is restored. Ensuring that your backup generator can meet the needs of your data centre requires keeping it up to date. Today's server infrastructure is larger, hotter, and more power-hungry than ever. Tactics that improve hardware administration like virtualization and blade servers also increase computer density and heat generation. Changing or moving hardware and workload risks overloading even regular electrical systems, so imagine what turning on an unprepared backup that's been untested for the new configuration could do.
Your backup generator should be tested following any major hardware change to the servers in addition to its regular maintenance. The generator must be capable of maintaining your data centre's systems for extended and short-term periods. If your generator is a standby model, it should be able to quickly turn on automatically in the event of a primary power failure.
To increase reliability and capacity, it’s also highly recommended that the standby generators are maintained and serviced periodically in accordance with CSA C282-09. The Canadian Standards Association (CSA) has developed maintenance and testing guidelines for emergency electrical power supply for buildings (backup generator). Code compliance generator maintenance will also reduce the costs of ownership over a period of time due to less unexpected and costly repairs, while also reducing exposure to litigations/injuries due to power failure. GAL Power’s service division can help ensure that the code requirements are met.
Have a Supply Line
During the ice storms that struck New England in 2008, Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and the ice storm that hit eastern Canada in 2013, many people were still left without power for over a week after the weather had passed. Your blackout contingency plan should include steps to take for outages lasting longer than your backup generator's fuel will last.
If possible, keep a fuel stockpile on-site. Maintaining enough fuel to run your generator for five days may be pricier than only keeping enough for two, but it is also immensely cheaper than suffering an outage for even three days.
An alternative to a stockpile is having a rental or supply contract with a vendor. Learn how much fuel your generator can hold and its consumption rate to establish a proper schedule. Make sure you use a vendor capable of delivering at any hour and that a fuel truck can have easy access to your generator. Talk to your vendor to pinpoint how quickly they can reach you.
In addition to partnering with a competent fuel service provider, it is also critical to ensure your fuel storage tanks comply with the local fuel oil regulations and codes. Ontario has strict regulations governing the handling and storage of fuel for aboveground and underground tanks. It is highly recommended that you ensure TSSA fuel storage tanks are in compliance in advance to avoid costly repairs and upgrades. GAL Power’s fuel services department can help you bring your fuel storage tank up to TSSA code requirements.
Be Redundant…or Rent
Whether as the result of human error, lack of maintenance, or other factors, backup generators can fail. Having a redundancy in place to back up your backup is important for a power outage contingency plan. Maintaining a second standby generator is expensive, however, so consider using a rental instead.
Your ability to recover faster from electrical disruptions also depends on your readiness to hook-up rental units. If not already furnished with a standby generator then it’s wise to have the hardwired electrical infrastructure equipped with a cam-lock connection and ATS or manual bypass to allow for a smooth transfer to the rental generator.
As with a fuel supply, make sure you speak to your vendor to find out how fast they could deliver a generator to you and at what hours. Establish a location for the rental to be placed beforehand—ideal locations are away from your building's air intakes, have good ventilation, and can be accessed by a fuel truck for resupply.
Additionally, your contingency plan should account for how cables will be routed from the generator to your data centre power distribution panel and if any accessories, such as spider boxes or cable ramps, are needed. An extra concern should be if your rental can handle 120 V and 240 V loads simultaneously for accessory plug-ins.
Since the rental will be supplementing a standby or primary generator, an overview of site-specific schematics is a must to ensure that rental equipment conforms to the design, application, synchronization, and safety requirements. In addition to this, an auto-start and stop feature can be critical to ensure the rental will turn on when your main generator goes down and shut itself off upon restoration. Your contingency plan must also establish a qualified technician to be responsible for setting up and monitoring the rental generator.
Next Step: Contact Us
GAL Power has 30 years of experience with power solutions. Contact us to let one of our GAL Power specialists develop a power outage contingency plan tailored for your data centre. You can also request a quote.