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Demanding resilience (and sustainability)


These days if you’re operating a data centre, if you can’t offer your customers the levels of resilience and sustainability they require, then you might as well get out of the race. Here, Marc Garner, VP, secure power division at Schneider Electric UK&I highlights the importance of creating critical power systems that can support these ever-growing demands.

Today energy efficiency is considered one of the key pillars of data centre sustainability. However, a challenge that runs in parallel is the need for mission-critical reliability.

Often when a battery backup system becomes more resilient, take, for example, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) deployed in an N+1 configuration, efficiency is the first aspect sacrificed.

Owners and operators, therefore, need not just consider the types of infrastructure they are deploying more carefully, but also the design of their data centres, the circular attributes, and the ability to integrate with both renewables and the grid.

Having a well rounded, highly-efficient or holistic approach is not only good for reducing operational expenditure (OpEx), total cost of ownership (TCO) and carbon emissions, it’s fundamentally good for the environment.

Why sustainability matters

In recent years data centre operators have come under increasing pressure to make their facilities more efficient, environmentally friendly, and sustainable.

A growing global awareness of the effects of climate change, combined with end-user demands for sustainability, has seen a number of transformative initiatives take place within the sector, including the emergence of the Climate Neutral Data Centre Pact, setting ambitious targets to help operators become carbon neutral by 2030.

In response, trade associations such as the European Data Centre Association (EUDCA) and Cloud Infrastructure Providers in Europe (CISPE) have helped to create a Self Regulatory Initiative that sets standards for sustainability and a drive to meet EU targets.

Both of these bodies have members who operate both inside and outside the EU, so their regulatory initiatives will apply to data centre operations across the continent as a whole.

Among the measures agreed is a commitment to ensuring that all new data centres in Europe will meet an annual Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) ratio of 1.3 or 1.4, depending on the climate region in which they are located.

Best practices mandated by the Initiative include commitments around energy efficiency targets, carbon-free energy generation, water conservation and the circular economy.

By some estimates, energy is responsible for over 80% of the world’s CO2 emissions and data centres are estimated to represent between 1-2% of global electricity consumption.

Add to that the tremendous growth of data centre capacity, commercial property giant CBRE anticipating that Europe will see a surge of over 400MW of new data centre space built in 2021 – approximately 20% more than recent years – efficiency and sustainability are, therefore, more critical than ever.

Customers are also looking to align with organisations embracing sustainable business practices. A recent survey by 451 Research found that 97% of colocation customers are demanding contractual commitments to sustainability, and of the 800+ global operators surveyed, more than half believe that efficiency and sustainability will be important competitive differentiators within three years.

A colocation provider who ignores or diminishes the importance of efficiency and sustainability can rest assured that their competitors will not. Yet, while  55% of surveyed operators were already taking some action in this regard, yet there is still more work to be done.

Efficiency and resilience

The evolution of today’s digital economy has meant that application uptime and uninterruptible power are in-essence, business-critical. Power protection systems that safeguard against service  disruption are paramount, but the need for sustainable backup solutions is also abundantly clear.

Data centre UPS systems must incorporate features that provide assurance against downtime without placing unnecessary additional burdens on overall power consumption. From a conceptual point of view, modular UPS’ that can be right-sized or scaled to match their load, ensure that the risk to IT infrastructure is mitigated by just the ‘right’ amount of battery backup.

Another key aspect is the operating mode, which can boost the efficiency of a UPS while barely compromising on the level of redundancy offered. Modes such as this can enable users to enjoy the highest level of energy savings without sacrificing load protection.

Schneider Electric’s patented ECOnversion mode, for example, offers UPS efficiencies of 99% and alongside pioneering safety features, such as its ‘Live Swap’ function. This allows power modules to be added or replaced while the UPS is online and fully operational – ensuring unscheduled downtime is kept to a minimum during the replacement process.

UPS systems with longer battery lives, especially if they can withstand a much greater number of charge and recharge cycles, also offer many advantages in terms of sustainability. Those powered by Lithium-Ion (li-ion) can offer users longer battery life, a lower TCO over the lifecycle and reduced  carbon emissions.

Further, the greater number of charge and recharge cycles offered by use of li-ion chemistries provides the possibility of collaborative measures such as peak shaving and micro grids – allowing stored energy to be utilised efficiently to reduce the demand on mains power.

Peak shaving applications can also ensure that higher tariffs, designed to encourage operators to remain within agreed power-consumption levels, are avoided by switching temporarily from mains to battery supply as limits are approached. Such capabilities, therefore, offer the user a means of both integrating with renewables and the grid, while delivering sustainable power protection.

Sustainable, circular considerations

A final aspect to consider is the circularity attributes of an uninterruptible power supply. Schneider Electric is committed to providing data centre operators with the technology to combine efficiency and sustainable operations with needs for maximum resilience.

To achieve this, products labelled as Green Premium can ensure vendors are crystal clear about the sustainability impact of their hardware systems, further helping end-users to truly gain a greater understanding of their embodied carbon footprint.

Such aspects include transparent environmental information about products, minimal use of hazardous substances and compliance with regulations such a Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the European Union (EU) Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

Further, environmental disclosures such as a Product Environmental Profile (PEP) or circularity profiles provide end-users with guidance on responsible product end of life treatments along with circular value propositions. Such measures enable owners and operators to take a step further in their sustainability considerations and build upon their energy efficiency considerations.   

Today, balancing the need for sustainable power protection alongside demands for resiliency are paramount. Yet by carefully considering the type of UPS technologies deployed, the design of the system, and by broadening the sustainability conversation to include renewables and the circular economy, data centre operators now have the means to ensure operational continuity, while minimising impact on the environment.

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