Powering the data ‘revolution’

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As cloud computing integrates even further into IT operations, the focus will move towards improving underlying critical infrastructure as businesses look to manage new data volumes. Investment in the right infrastructure – not just new infrastructure – will be crucial. Louise Frampton reports on the key trends driving the market, highlighted by experts at a roundtable event in London, hosted by Vertiv.

Installation by Vertiv at Southampton University
Installation by Vertiv at Southampton University

The critical infrastructure market is witnessing a ‘revolution’, according to Giordano Albertazzi, president of Vertiv in Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). When he first started in the industry sector, data centres were mainly for enterprise, there was very little internet traffic and telecoms businesses were focused on voice services.

“Years later, we thought that server virtualisation was a huge revolution. But the revolution has been the arrival of smart phones and the cloud. Today, everyone has been empowered to use data at a rate that is unprecedented. The established model for the enterprise data centre has become a hybrid and the cloud also powers the enterprise data centre. It has been a phenomenal transformation.”

Everything is ‘going digital’ – from industrial, commercial and telecoms applications, to the six million smart phones that are now estimated to be in circulation. “As a company, we need to empower this revolution,” says Albertazzi.

With data volumes rapidly rising, IT infrastructures will continue to evolve throughout 2017 to offer faster, more secure and more efficient services needed to meet these new demands. “We believe that 2017 will be the year that IT professionals will invest in future-proofing their data centre facilities to ensure that they remain nimble and flexible in the years to come,” adds Albertazzi.

Alan Whelan, managing director of Vertiv in Northern Europe, says UK data centres are investing significantly in expansion, undeterred by Brexit – the company has been working on projects with co-location providers, to support expansion of their data halls, by upgrading UPS capacity for example.

“Our co-location customers in the UK are future-proofing their investments. They are confident about their investment plans, the ability to grow their business and are adding capacity. On the telecoms side, the landscape for investment in the UK is clearer than it has been for a while. I anticipate that we will grow our business in this area in the year ahead. Telecoms business are well placed to expand the facilities they have in terms of edge computing,” says Whelan.

Vertiv discussed key data centre trends at the roundtable
Vertiv discussed key data centre trends at the roundtable

Vertiv observes that infrastructure will continue to race to keep up with connectivity at the edge; distributed IT and the industrial Internet of Things are pushing IT resources closer to users and industrial processes. While the data centre remains core to delivering applications and services, such as point of sale and inventory management, network closets and micro data centres are growing in number and importance as internet-connected sensors and devices proliferate and remote users demand faster access to information.

Organisations will turn to pre-configured micro data centre solutions that support fast deployment, greater standardisation and remote management across distributed IT locations. Standardisation and modularity are becoming as important in distributed IT locations as they are in large data centres, according to Vertiv.

The company predicts that existing network closets and remote IT locations will also be re-evaluated to ensure the power and cooling provisions are adequate to meet the increased criticality of these locations as they begin to provide localised collection and analysis of real-time data from connected sensors and devices.

Another key trend emerging is the increasing focus on energy usage, which is coming to the fore across all industry sectors, according to Michael O’Keeffe, vice-president of service for Vertiv in EMEA. He comments that Vertiv has seen increasing interest in energy efficient power solutions in the past year, and this has been evident within the telecoms sector, for example: “This sector spends huge amounts on electricity. We have specialist consultant engineers that visit sites that can advise on optimisation, to help reduce their PUE from alarmingly high numbers in some cases, while ensuring they follow, or return, to best industry practice.”

Efforts have focused on equipment placement – such as 96% efficient rectifiers, high efficiency UPS systems and adiabatic cooling systems – along with services such as upfront design, site refurbishment and ongoing support and monitoring to deliver energy savings.

The drive to reduce energy costs has also had a significant influence on the market for data centre cooling solutions. Vertiv says that traditional approaches, focused on delivering ‘maximum cooling’, have been displaced by more sophisticated approaches focused on removing heat as efficiently as possible. Increased use of advanced economiser technologies and the continued evolution of intelligent thermal controls have enabled highly resilient thermal management strategies that support PUEs below 1.2.

While energy efficiency remains a core concern, water consumption and refrigerant use have also emerged as important considerations in select geographies. Due to the expanded range of thermal management strategies available today, data centre operators are tailoring thermal management based on data centre location and resource availability. Global market trends show an increase in the use of new technologies leveraging evaporative and adiabatic cooling that use water to cool the surrounding air. These technologies are delivering highly efficient, reliable and economical thermal management.

Where water availability or costs are an issue, waterless cooling systems have gained traction. A traditional open-loop chilled water-based system uses about four million gallons of water to cool one MW of IT capacity in one year. New technologies featuring pumped-refrigerant economisers that use no water and introduce no outside air into the data centre have the ability to deliver significant savings in water consumption.

Vertiv also says that it is witnessing innovation in terms of power generation and systems, within the commercial and industrial sectors. In view of the UK’s goal to ensure 20% of power generation is from renewables, Vertiv is supporting an increasing number of projects in this area – from windfarms, to emerging business models that look at supporting the grid, during ‘peaks and troughs’ in supply (eg demand side response).

New solutions are also emerging to the “weak link in data centre power systems” as operators seek to reduce the footprint, weight and total costs of traditional valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries.

Vertiv argues that the most promising of these is lithium-ion batteries. With prices decreasing and chemistries and construction continuing to advance, lithium-ion batteries are becoming a viable option for the data centre and are being scaled to handle row- and room-level requirements. While this battery technology has been available previously, the improving economics have spurred increased commercialisation efforts in the data centre industry.

Data centre operators have long been interested in alternatives to lead-acid batteries, but available technologies have not been able to match the value and storage capacity of traditional batteries. Vertiv claims that real alternatives are emerging that can reduce footprint, expand runtimes and enhance sustainability.

Technology integration has been increasing in the data centre space for the last several years as operators seek modular, integrated solutions that can be deployed quickly, scaled easily and operated efficiently.

Now, this same philosophy is being applied to data centre development. Speed-to-market is one of the key drivers of the companies developing the bulk of data centre capacity today, and they have found the traditional silos between the engineering and construction phases cumbersome and unproductive. As a result, they are embracing a turnkey approach to data centre design and deployment that leverages integrated, modular designs, off-site construction and disciplined project management. Vertiv claims that vendors that bring together infrastructure expertise, design and engineering capabilities and sophisticated project management to deliver a turnkey capability can build better data centres faster.

Albertazzi comments that optimisation does not end with the supply of the equipment, however, but should be over the life-cycle of the critical infrastructure – from planning and design, to project management and ongoing maintenance. “Even if you go into the best designed data centre, unless there has been a continuous focus on optimisation, what was once optimal, will have become sub-optimal within five or 10 years.”

He points out that equipment may be changed and the overall holistic vision of the infrastructure may be lost over time. Ideally, a health check of the infrastructure is recommended at least on an annual basis. This should seek to preserve the efficiency level of the initial design or replace technologies with equipment that is more efficient.

Looking to the future, Albertazzi points out that, as Vertiv is no longer part of a large conglomerate, decisions can be made much faster, enabling the company to be more responsive to emerging market trends on the horizon. Previously known as Emerson Network Power, the company was purchased by Platinum Equity from Emerson in a transaction valued in excess of $4bn.

“This agility is crucial to being successful in a sector where transformation is so rapid. Being independent, more nimble and closer to the market, will help us to better partner our customers,” he concludes.

Modular UPS solution safeguards critical research 

Michael O’Keeffe highlighted the fact that Vertiv is seeing increasing investment in mission critical infrastructure at research universities in the UK. “Fundamentally, they are building data centres,” he commented. “The nature of medical research, in particular, means that the reliability of the digital environment is critical.” One such example is the University of Southampton – one of the UK’s top 20 research universities. The institution has produced ground-breaking findings across numerous fields from ocean exploration to understanding the internet, and from sustainable energy to finding medical solutions to major diseases.

To meet the ‘day one’ needs of the new data centre project, Vertiv provided the University of Southampton with three Liebert Trinergy UPS systems with a total of 1,600kVA capacity. Provisioning for day one requirements, rather than predicted growth, wasn’t a lack of foresight on the university’s part; instead this enabled careful management of the initial capital expenditure due to the Liebert Trinergy UPS’ modular nature.

The three dimensions of modularity (vertical, horizontal, orthogonal) that the Liebert Trinergy UPS features allow the university to expand its power protection needs at the same pace as changing load requirements by simply adding additional power modules. Put simply, the power requirements of the new facility have been future-proofed. It was also essential that the university’s critical power protection system could be maintained in an optimum state of readiness.

Vertiv’s ‘Life Services’ enables remote diagnostics which deliver proactive equipment maintenance and reduced downtime. This provides early warning of UPS and single module alarm conditions and out of tolerances, which in real terms means that the University of Southampton benefits from effective, proactive maintenance and fast incident response. Critically, the data centre has also achieved environmental and financial credibility:

• Annual CO2 production has been reduced by 160 tonnes compared with the previous, less efficient facility

• Energy requirements have been reduced by 300MW hours per year, resulting in a reduced annual total cost of ownership for the facility

• The Liebert Trinergy UPS is listed on the ECA Scheme for Energy Saving Technologies. The ECA scheme allows organisations to write off the whole cost of the equipment against taxable profits in the year of purchase – reducing the capital cost of the new facility

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