August 30, 2012
Data Center Power Consumptions & Outages – Their Effect on Lives
In early July, a massive storm swept into the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States knocking out power to Amazon.com, which houses Netflix, Instagram, and many others. Amazon blamed its failure on generator issues, but it was determined the generators set point was set too low, and that they actually had attempted to capture the load too quickly ahead of the generators reaching full run. This had destabilized the generator and it could not recover. The load was then dropped and the servers went dark. I can imagine Amazon is working diligently to ensure this never happens again.
In late July, India experienced the largest power outage of all time, leaving 620 million people without power for a two day period. The owners of their data centers realized the government-owned electrical infrastructure was unstable, so in an effort to prevent a catastrophic failure of their systems, they prepared by installing backup power and redundant data communications to meet Tier III requirements. With 99.99999% reliability, not a single data center was lost.
The difference between these two power outages was evident, as the India firms recognized their problems and were prepared, and the United States firms acknowledged their problems, but were not prepared.
In the 1900s, the United States developed power grids throughout the country without really considering what the future would hold. Power then was strictly used to run our businesses and homes. Power grids must now do not only all the above, but also must run our computers and other electronic devices, support music and video streaming, and online activities (e.g. shopping, banking, social media).
With the introduction of mega data centers to support the growing number of web users and time spent online, the United States’ power grids are becoming overburdened. Utilities have been de-regulated, which means power providers are now governed by the stakeholders rather than the needs of the consumer. When this happens, concerns with power quality and equipment performance become important when it will affect the bottom line of the de-regulated entity. The result is crews are spread too thin, recurring preventive maintenance is now performed less frequently, and there is an increased potential for failure.
There is good news, however. Large data centers are making huge strides to come off the grid as much as possible with the introduction of fuel cell technology to create a CO-Generation scenario. In this scenario, the fuel cell is the primary source and the grid is the last resort. There is hope!