By Louis McGarry, Sales and Marketing Director, CENTIEL UK Ltd

For colocation (colo) data centres hosting cloud and network services for a variety of clients, the goal is to provide a safe and secure environment which protects the critical load in the most cost-effective way possible.

It is necessary to supply the correct resilience level and, in some cases, meet the requirements of a Tier Two, Three or Four datacentre and have the right level of security. So essentially the way that the colo is designed can affect the cost of space for clients.  There are fixed costs such as the building, in addition to variable costs which include the equipment.  To reduce variable overheads, the datacentre can be decentralised into data halls so individual areas can be isolated, cooling and Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) managed.

In the past, colos have tended to install large stand-alone monolithic UPS blocks from day one.  However, we live in changing times. The challenge with a large stand-alone UPS of say 500kW, is that it is oversized unless the datacentre is at capacity.  Oversized systems cost more to buy, more to run and more to maintain.  Data centre managers have rightly started to ask: why install 1 MW of UPS from day one when you haven’t sold the space?

An alternative approach is to install a modular UPS where you have the ability to install the fully rated frame or empty carcass. This gives you the option to add the required number of modules to suit the actual load and further UPS modules can be added only when needed.  All the individual modules are effectively a UPS in their own right, all containing a rectifier, inverter, and static switch and all operating online in parallel with each other.  This offers much more flexibility.

In this way, ‘a modular approach” helps minimise the need for a large initial investment in a stand-alone solution: colos can literally pay as they grow.  It means colocation data centres can scale as they sell the space.  As more clients are on-boarded, the cost of more UPS modules is offset.

As well as significant cost savings, adopting a modular approach to UPS installation offers the ultimate in system flexibility too.  Modules can be re-deployed or moved around the facility as needed.   If one client moves on and another arrives and the module ratings are standardised (say for example all 50kW), then they can simply be re-used elsewhere.

Maintenance is also easier with a modular UPS solution.  Compare a fault with a stand-alone UPS which needs to be switched off to fix on-site.  The call out time for an engineer is at best usually four hours, then it could take them six to eight hours to fix the system.  The paralleled UPS (N+1) will support the load but this is a risk as there is no back-up during this time.

By contrast, if there is a problem with a modular solution, modules can be swapped in moments and repairs completed later offsite.  There is no need to revert to external maintenance bypass and raw mains, the UPS can remain live while the module is changed over, as the other modules support the load.   We have also provided first level response training to some of our clients so if they hold a spare module onsite, they can easily ‘hot swap’ if necessary.  This means modular UPS offer much greater levels of availability than stand alone systems.  For example, our fourth generation three phase modular UPS, CumulusPower offers industry leading 99.9999999% (nine, nines) availability which translates to just milliseconds of downtime per year.

It was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who once said: “The only thing that is constant is change”.  If nothing else, recent events have shown that no-one knows what the future holds.  However, we do know that the need to store data will continue and will increase.  The rise in edge data centres may see the role of cloud facilities change, or we may find the introduction of 5G results in the further acceleration of the accumulation of data to the extent that colos need to change the way they work in order to keep up with demand.

The deployment of Modular UPS technology will enable colos to have a flexible, agile way to accommodate changing demand through constantly right-sizing systems.  Minimising costs connected with UPS purchase, ongoing running and maintenance costs, can all contribute towards maximising returns.  By working closely with design teams, we can help colos re-think, re-use, and re-manage infrastructure to reduce waste and overall expenditure in this way.  For many colos adopting a pay as you grow approach may offer the competitive advantage needed to thrive in our ever-changing world.

Article featured in Data Centre Review Magazine June 2020

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