Reliability in the Data Center

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Another option for UPSs is the flywheel type. In this device, energy is stored in the rotating flywheel, as opposed to batteries. The obvious advantage here is that there are no batteries to replace as time goes on. The obvious disadvantage is that there is usually a limited amount of time this type can maintain the load. This type really only covers you while your emergency source gets ready to go. And just because there are no batteries doesn't mean there is no maintenance cost -- for example, in the flywheel type, you will need to change the bearings after a certain number of hours. That's not an inexpensive proposition. Some well-known manufacturers of this type are Active Power and Caterpillar.

An emergency power source is a requirement for any data center that intends to maintain 24/7/365 operations. The obvious choice for that is a generator set. Again, if you're building a new facility, you'll tell your MEP engineer about the load requirements. Sizing of the set isn't the only thing to consider, though -- fuel source is another, as are fuel storage and availability. There are many factors to consider when it comes to selecting the fuel source. Here is a simple Web page that has all the advantages and disadvantages conveniently laid out for you: Propane and natural gas are alternatives to diesel.

Of course you'll want to have remote access to your generator set. Cummins, for example, has a feature called PowerCommand iWatch. This browser-based monitoring system allows you to supervise and control generators (and transfer switches) from anywhere. In addition to Web access it provides alarm notifications, real-time data collection, data retention, and report generation.

Kohler is another well-known manufacturer of generator sets. Its remote access is provided by way of the generator controller system called Decision Maker. A PC runs software (called Monitor III) that communicates with the controller, and this connection can be done serially (or dial-up modem) or via a LAN connection through a Modbus/Ethernet converter.

Caterpillar has a product known as ECMP for monitoring and control of their generator sets, and they also provide ECMP remote monitoring software that will run on a PC that talks with the control panel via a 10baseT Ethernet connection. Like the Kohler system, you would have to remotely access the computer that runs the vendor-specific software.

Alternatives to generator sets are few; one is the fuel cell. Most of the fuel cells out there top out at 5kW of production -- probably of little use for a data center. On the other hand, there is. Bloom Energy. Bloom is producing solid-oxide fuel cell (the ES5400) for the 100kW level (480V/3-phase). Fuel sources are either natural gas or directed biogas. Bloom remotely manages the device, by the way; they give you access to a website that shows its performance.

Radio stations have changed much over the years -- and so have data center (or master control room) requirements. It takes an amazing amount of resources to maintain large groups of computers.

Irwin is transmission systems supervisor for Clear Channel NYC and chief engineer of WKTU, New York. Contact him at

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