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Innovation in the power train

The data center industry is growing fast, driven by demand from an expanding world of Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, cloud and location aware applications. Against this backdrop I am fortunate that I get time to talk with technologists and decision-makers in the industry, and operators large and small.

We often talk of information and communications technology (ICT) innovation, such as those constantly emerging from the semiconductor industry or data storage sectors. Moore’s Law continuously improves the power and efficiency of electronics - if the same Law applied to the airline industry then by now, an aircraft would cross the Atlantic in eight minutes with less than three liters of fuel. 

abb modular power distribution

Modular power distribution

Source: ABB

Power to change 

But while ICT has delivered unprecedented efficiency, the other disciplines have not stood still. The relentless pursuit of new cooling methods has led to great improvements in data center energy efficiency and now the people who deliver, measure and control the power to run these facilities might step forward and demonstrate what they can offer too.

Here are five things you can do today in your data center that were not possible just a few years ago:

  • Circuit breakers just got clever
    Some circuit breakers now have native metering capabilities for power quality and consumption measurement, and a network interface supporting many communications protocols to allow you to remotely manage loads at a much more granular level with the ability to query and control the breaker from your smartphone. For example ABB’s EMAX2, offers “Ekip” functionality which lets the user decide which loads are important when the system goes to emergency power. It’s a breaker Jim, but not as we know it!
  • Switchgear is digital
    In the past any significant change in load characteristics for site upgrades would require a physical replacement of the sensor and control elements in the switchgear to satisfy the new specifications. This is no longer the case. It’s all digital now. Just log in and modify the parameters. Couple this with IEC61850 communications across the powertrain and you reduce your physical connections requirement by up to 80 percent. Digital also reduces project execution time, the physical size of the equipment and makes the installation more reliable and safe. With Digital you can make configuration changes with no downtime, no human access and no cost.
  • aontrol from a smartphone
    It’s now possible to control some infrastructure functions from a smartphone app. For instance, ABB’s Drivetune app can start and tune ABB drives.
  • New UPS approaches
    The de facto standard for the industry has been LV UPS and if you wanted to go to MV UPS you most likely needed a dynamic solution. In the past few years, several industrial UPS providers have brought their solution to the data center and the benefits are clear. For larger data centers a MV solution offers TCO benefit, uses less space and can co-exist easily with renewable and alternative energy generation.
  • Open Standards for communication
    DCIM has promised to deliver improvements in operational efficiency and we are seeing this capability mature at a steady pace. A key issue in the past was the proprietary nature of the solutions, and the limited opportunity to mix technologies and vendors. Well no more, system designs can be based now on open-but-cyber secure protocols and data access. This allows customers to ‘own their data’ and improves the opportunities to integrate with best-of-breed tools and business systems. Make the automation platform fit your operational philosophy, not the other way around …doh!

Innovation in the power train is very much rooted in control and optimization, providing more real-time and software-based interfaces that open up new possibilities for data center operations. This allows closer alignment between demand and provision to give greater visibility of system performance so you can react to the issues that will inevitably arise …before they happen!

Ciaran Flanagan is head ABB’s global data center business

Readers' comments (2)

  • Approximately seven years ago an ABB Engineer went to work for Facebook. The OCP open Rack with its own 12V rectifiers and Li-Ion battery backup units is what we have today. This OCP design eliminates the need for Traditional Dual Centralised UPS and VRLA systems. Now here is my question would ABB have allowed this smart ex Engineer develop this OCP design if he had stayed at ABB?

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  • @ John_Laban , thanks for the comment and for a very interesting question. OCP is something we are engaged with as are many of our industry peers and like most technology disruption there are threats and opportunities ...we see that clearly. We typically do not get inside the rack from a portfolio perspective although we see the OCP scope coming to meet us at the PDU and Switchgear soon. To answer your question , yes I believe so , we have product development activity and technology partnerships that are relevant to OCP today and no doubt more to come.

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