The UK data centre market is pipped to be the largest in Europe, and despite predictions from the Tariff Consultancy Ltd (TCL) a few years ago – suggesting that rack space and square metre pricing may have hit its glass ceiling – the industry is still buoyant. Here, Power Control explores the ever upward trajectory of this resilient market and highlights the advances in UPS technology that will pave the way for further success, not only now, but in the future.
Originally identified as mainframes, the data centres of yesteryear were merely hubs of computing power used to process physical data. That was before wireless and even the internet, which is now accountable for the mass uptake and rapid data centre advancements.
What data centre operators were not prepared for at the time was the seemingly impulsive adoption of virtualisation. Driven by the need to address hardware utilisation, power and cooling efficiency and reduced IT spend, virtualisation was the culprit for a significant dip in data centre requirements in the early 2000s.
Undeterred and spurred on by cloud computing and the Internet of Things, the data centre market met these challenges head on, embraced more efficient solutions and maintained its position at the heart of the digital economy.
It is the industry’s willingness to embrace, and invest, in new equipment that has influenced our existing data centre landscape and helped it emerge from on-premises comms rooms to independent micro DCs, co-los and hyperscale data centres. Whilst all data centre components still exist to provide the same functions, they have all reformed to harness global pressures for improved connectivity, efficiency, resilience and sustainability.
Take UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) solutions. These provide essential power backup delivering clean, reliable power protection against load disturbances. Central for power hungry facilities such as data centres, the principal role of UPS systems to deliver unfailing emergency power has not changed. What has altered is their capacity to significantly improve data centre efficiency and flexibility.
Specialists in the field are now able to help owner operators realise their true efficiency potential by selecting not just the correct emergency power solution but also considering all the other elements of the electrical infrastructure that contribute to TCO.
Early data centres had to rely on large transformer-based UPS solutions to support their infrastructures. Once hailed as the far more resilient backup power system, a transformer-based UPS unit has its drawbacks. The most obvious being its large footprint and heavy weight. The very first transformer-based systems were also grossly inefficient. However, advances in technology have allowed newer models to offer far superior efficiency of up to 98%, whilst maintaining resilient performance.
Another shortcoming that has more recently come to light in the wake of modular UPS solutions, is the slightly more complex installation and maintenance processes that transformer-based options require. Despite this, many data centre facilities still utilise transformer-based UPS solutions, reassured that improvements in their technology guarantee power protection, whilst also meeting efficiency goals.
The launch of modular UPS systems not only reinvigorated the power protection market but allowed the data centre industry to broaden its scope. Offering a flexible and scalable approach to UPS investment, modular UPS solutions deliver high efficiency even at low loads. This makes them ideal for micro data centres and co-location facilities, which rely on a ‘scale as you grow’ approach.
Modular UPS development has been rapid, and its boundaries are still being pushed, most recently with the introduction of lithium-ion batteries.
With their cost barriers slowly eroding and with the sector becoming more knowledgeable about their technology and extended lifespan, lithium-ion solutions are predicted to become common place.
Smaller, lighter and more temperature tolerant, they reduce the space needed to house power protection. In addition, lithium-ion batteries also contribute to a data centre’s economic and operational efficiencies through peak shaving.
The global appetite for digital consumption is relentless and dependence on a virtually connected world has never been greater than now. Covid-19 has had an enormous impact on the data centre market but thanks to its forward thinking associated industries, the market has boomed.
Data centre growth is undisputed. Already big players including IONOS and Google have made moves for potential data centre builds in the UK. Over the last decade we have seen UPS systems help shape the industry, where colocation data centres continue to thrive thanks to modular UPS innovation. Continued research, development and investment will see power protection solutions undoubtedly impact the current hyperscale revolution, but to what extent is anyone’s guess.