Deeper insight key to uptime

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Data centre automation technologies are transforming the sector, according to ABB’s Paul Johnson. He says data centres can increase resilience and tackle spiralling energy costs by focussing on three components: deep component visibility, intelligent grid connections and elastic critical infrastructure. Louise Frampton reports…

With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence in commercial environments and greater dependence on consumer technologies, such as streaming services, e-mobility and 5G, demand for data is growing exponentially. In this hyper connected world, the reliability of data centres is critical. Speaking at Data Centre World, Paul Johnson, Data Centre Segment Lead for ABB in the UK, pointed out that today’s data centre infrastructure requires greater control and deeper insight to manage overall performance and spiralling energy resources. 

ABB is focussing on three main pillars to help data centres ensure resilience: intelligent grid connection at the point where the facility interfaces with the utility network; ‘elastic critical infrastructure’ (or flexible solutions to ensure maximum asset utilisation); and deep component visibility to simplify operations and improve reliability.

Intelligent grid connections

Johnson highlights the fact that increasing distributed generation sources, such as wind farms and solar plants, are changing the power generation landscape. This is prompting the need for large-scale battery storage to enable energy to be taken from a variety of renewable sources, then fed back to the grid in a more controlled manner. Large energy users are also being urged to help stabilise the grid, through demand-side response (DSR) schemes. Some of the barriers to participation for data centres are now being overcome, according to Johnson: 

“Data centres were concerned about the possible impact of DSR on site resilience, while the slow adoption of lithium ion was also a barrier. Slowly, we are seeing more and more adoption of lithium ion batteries. In the past, there were rumours around fire risks and a significant price differential between traditional lead acid and lithium ion. 

“As lithium ion has become more developed and more commonplace, we are recognising that the technical issues around fire risk were specific use cases or related to specific types of lithium ion battery – there are many different categories of chemistry for lithium ion. The price point has also significantly reduced. ABB offers a UPS solution that is lithium ion ready, which is opening up the possibility for DSR in the future,” Johnson commented.  

Microgrid solutions also benefit sites that are looking for reliable power supply, as well as cost and carbon emissions reduction. Microgrids enable resilient power supply even with high penetration of intermittent renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Digital automation and control systems intelligently coordinate distributed energy resources and loads for the microgrid to function efficiently.

Earlier this year, ABB and Rolls-Royce announced a global partnership on microgrid technology and advanced automation. This will combine Rolls-Royce’s MTU genset technology and control solutions, with ABB’s modular microgrid solution and control capability. ABB Ability e-mesh can ensure a stable power grid, even with a high share of renewable energy from various sources, working smoothly together with gas or diesel engines. The technology provides power generation asset owners with an integrated, unified view of their distributed energy resources and renewable power generation. 

Elastic critical infrastructure

“Pay as you grow is about taking a modular approach to electrical infrastructure. It is about being able to right-size the technology blocks – UPS is a key part of the data centre’s electrical infrastructure,” commented Johnson. He points out that the DPA range of modular UPS allows ABB to provide scalable power into the data centres power stream. 

“Employing a modular UPS ensures the right capacity and level of resilience for your requirements,” he continued, adding that the decentralised parallel architecture of the DPA range “takes all of the critical components and repeats them in every single module for maximum uptime.”

According to Johnson, ABB has made a significant impact on UPS efficiency. Models, such as ABB’s DPA 250 S4 offer efficiencies of 97.6% and 30% lower power losses compared to other similar products on the market. One cabinet can host up to six 50 kW modules for 250 kW N+1 redundant power, while up to six 250 kW frames and up to 30 modules can be paralleled for 1,500 kW of uninterrupted, clean power. Secure ring-bus communication also ensures there is no single point of failure in the system.

Deep component visibility

Johnson explains that deep component visibility is about making devices smarter. At a rack level, for example, current monitoring systems can look at delivery into the data hall and provide granularity of data around power consumption, which can be analysed. 

“For some of the larger circuit breakers, we have the ability to look at predictive maintenance. We can analyse the contact wear, for a breaker and predict when it will need replacing… We collect this data via the ABB Ability platform, which allows us to visualise data from our own devices, as well as third party devices. This in turn enables smart decision-making,” Johnson commented. 

Other examples of intelligent solutions being deployed include ABB’s UniGear Digital, which takes advantage of current and voltage sensors in switchgear, and protection and control relays using IEC 61850 digital communication, to ensure a reliable and efficient electrical network. The solution offers the flexibility to change the loads, supplied by the switchgear, without changing a current instrument transformer. 

ABB’s Emax 2 circuit breaker also enables a direct communication to the new energy management cloud-computing platform ABB Ability Electrical Distribution Control System and is claimed to ensure significantly lower power losses.

Other solutions contributing towards ‘deep component visibility’ include ABB’s new asset health solution designed to optimise switchgear performance. Through monitoring and diagnostics of real-time information on the asset health of electrical systems, the ‘Swicom’ solution lowers switchgear maintenance costs by up to 30%.

Condition monitoring increases availability and reliability of a primary and secondary distribution network, helping to identify a possible failure before it happens through a predictive approach. As the switchgear condition is visible without having to open the panels, Swicom also increases the safety of personnel.

Real-time data provides better support for decision making, allowing better analysis, optimisation of operations and improvements in power quality. 

Operations managers can monitor the condition of their assets via a touch-screen human-machine interface and an intuitive mobile app, while connection with the ABB Ability Asset Health for electrical systems – MyRemoteCare – enables visibility and tracking of assets from anywhere in the world.

Energy savings

Increased intelligence and automation within the data centre will not only help to increase resilience, but also improve the bottom line for data centre operators. This was recently demonstrated at one of the world’s largest telecommunications network equipment suppliers, Ericsson. ABB enabled the company to automate and control operations not only across hardware and software platforms, but also across power, cooling and energy management systems, including the Building Management System (BMS), Power Management System (PMS) and Energy Management System (EMS). The ABB Ability Data Centre Automation solution helped deliver an impressive 40% in energy savings.

“To reduce energy usage, you need to know what is going on. The ABB Ability platform enables a holistic view and the ability to build repeatable reports. For smaller facilities, a scaled-down version is available in the form of an Electrical Distribution Control System (EDCS) which allows data to be gathered from metering and monitoring devices, and ABB circuit breakers. These solutions allow the comparison of operational parameters between multiple sites – it is all about gaining crucial insights. 

“The ABB Ability platform also allows adaptive capacity, which is built into the DPA 500 UPS. As a modular UPS, it is possible to have a fully populated frame but, when indicated, modules can be put into standby mode – thereby reducing power consumption. However, modules can be quickly re-deployed when required. This approach significantly reduces losses in the UPS systems.”

Resilience at the edge

Johnson revealed that ABB is also focussing on ensuring resilience and optimising infrastructure at the edge, in collaboration with HPE and Rittal. ABB, HPE and Rittal recently unveiled the Secure Edge Data Centre (SEDC) for industrial and telecommunications environments, which allows customers to run enterprise-grade IT in close proximity to their operational technology (OT) environments, machines and equipment to enable low-latency, secure and reliable digital processes.

The market for micro-modular data centres is growing rapidly. According to 451 Research, the market has seen an annual growth rate faster than 50% on average over the last three years and it will continue to expand with initiatives like 5G and the ongoing OT-IT convergence. 

SEDC provides a turnkey and resilient data centre environment optimised to operate in harsh environments. It enables customers to run data acquisition, analytics and control processes near industrial equipment to avoid the latency, security and reliability issues associated with data communication through remote IT systems.

The future

In the future, Johnson predicts that the need for intelligent power management will intensify: “As liquid cooling has more of an uptake, we are going to see power densities in data centres increase. 

“This will require increased management. Perhaps we will see more in terms of software defined power, or we may see sites with more onsite energy storage and energy generation. These facilities may become two-way actors – moving from being consumers to prosumers of energy,” he concludes.

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