By KERRY SMITH, EDITOR, ST. LOUIS CONSTRUCTION NEWS AND REVIEW MAGAZINE
Specialty contractors engineering data centers consider the back-up power system the “pacemaker” of these mission-critical spaces.
Jacobs Mission Critical Global Technology Leader Ken Kutsmeda has led the construction of more than one million square feet of data centers, adapting the latest technologies to electrical systems design for mission-critical facilities worldwide.
“Data centers are meant to operate 24/7…they can’t have downtime,” Kutsmeda says. “Their systems must be designed with redundancy and resiliency so that concurrent maintenance can be performed without shutting down the data center, and to ensure continuous operation if one part of a system fails.”
Nearly every piece of mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) equipment – the generator, transformer, uninterrupted power supply (UPS) feeding each server rack, power distribution unit (PDU), chiller, pump and fan – has at least one redundant component. “There is also redundancy in the mechanical piping and in the electrical infrastructure, as well as water storage tanks within the cooling system, should public water loss occur.”
In years past, the redundancy strategy for these facilities was to back up IT and cooling through a large, paralleled back-up power generation system. These days, Kutsmeda says, many hyper-scalers such as Amazon, Microsoft and Google are engineering redundancy at the IT level to protect from outages while also engineering power back-up for the network.
“One configuration is providing back-up power in smaller individual power trains,” he says, “pairing a generator with a transformer and UPS system so they can be easily phased with construction.”
A current, growing trend, Kutsmeda adds, is sustainability and carbon emissions-free back-up power generation that replaces the carbon-based diesel generator with sustainable solutions including hydrogen fuel cells, hydrogen generators or even micro-nuclear generators.
Rosendin Vice President of Engineering Ron Wilson, who has been involved with data center engineering for more than 25 years, says many of the larger data centers require as much power as a small city in terms of electrical loads.
“Most power redundancy today is compartmentalized,” says Wilson. “Whereas 20 years ago you may have seen the designs with all the power for the data center within one block, these days that power distribution is sectionalized so that one issue doesn’t impact the entire facility.”
Controls play as integral a role today as redundant systems do, according to Wilson. “Controls and monitoring have become huge because data center users want to be able to monitor their capacity and move it to wherever it is needed. That’s where the complexity and flexibility of current distribution systems come into play.”
Overhead busway that feed power to specific server rows, allowing flexibility for server refresh, is one distribution strategy.
Higher temperatures produced by modern servers are another challenge in engineering data centers. “Placing coolers that are localized at the server rack rather than cooling an entire room is becoming more common in high-density data centers today,” Wilson says.