The global shift towards digitalization, together with the Internet of Things (IoT), has resulted in the ever-increasing demand for data center services, which facilitate the processing, storage, and accessibility to information.

In 2022 alone, global data production and consumption is already projected to reach 94 zettabytes, and is expected to grow at least 25 percent annually until 2024.

Because of today’s highly interconnected environment, there is an increased demand and reliance on data and its availability. This need for connectivity defines additional requirements for data centers and sets boundaries for the electrical systems that run them.

It not only adds additional challenges to new builds but also outlines how to upgrade existing sites and keep them up to date.

“As the world becomes more dependent on IT services, reliability will receive greater scrutiny and calls for further improvements,” said the Uptime Institute in its 2021 annual global data center survey.

Until the number and severity of service downtimes are decreased, data centers will continuously be challenged to meet increasingly stringent uptime targets and implement definitive solutions that can maximize operational efficiency and profitability.

Bringing in digitalization inside data centers

The development of new technologies is bringing new features and products that lay the foundation for improvements in data centers.

Having an existing site does not mean that you cannot enjoy the benefits of digitalization in data centers. Retrofit kits and upgrades are easy ways to update existing equipment and prolong its lifetime, while gaining access to latest features and applications. For instance, this means that you might not even need to buy new switchgear as it is possible to upgrade an existing one by adding smart devices and sensors.

However, when building a new facility, digitally-enabled equipment should be considered by default. For example, by using multiple sensors to measure temperature and humidity, and by monitoring utilization and operating cycles of electrical devices, a digital switchgear can monitor its own health and indicate when conditions change. That way it can predict potential failures before they occur or alert when maintenance is needed, avoiding costly or unnecessary downtime.

Besides everyday functionality, digital switchgears that utilize sensors offer footprint reduction and reduce complicated hardwiring. Therefore, the typical pain points along with the switchgear reconfiguration in a power system will be relieved.

Digitally-enabled components and equipment can run several different protocols, offering connectivity and speeding up troubleshooting. For instance, the IEC 61850 digital communication replaces hard wiring, allowing operators to supervise signals between panels. Errors with these signals will be immediately detected to avoid potential system issues. The protection function also operates faster with IEC 61850 GOOSE compared to conventional hardwiring.

With digital equipment, we are getting a smarter electrical system, where we can monitor, control, and manage the system in an efficient manner. Digital enablers and digitally-enabled components are the first step towards a smart and optimized site, where supervisory management and optimization programs can be utilized.

Data centers contain a considerable number of components within their electrical distribution network and typically have a power density that is up to 100 times that of commercial buildings. The condition of these systems needs to be closely monitored as their role is critical in facilitating optimal data center performance. In these cases, artificial intelligence and machine learning bring additional benefits.

Having deep, real-time visibility on a data center’s electrical network, a proactive maintenance strategy can be deployed, reducing the possibility of costly system downtime. This real-time information can also be used to implement measures to help reduce energy consumption and facilitate cost-effective results such as improved operational reliability and longer data center life span.

Improving efficiency in data centers through augmented reality

Downtime due to equipment failure and system outages in data centers is a major concern but something that can be efficiently managed, with the help of digital components and advancements in augmented reality (AR).

Apart from ensuring that data center employees, especially those handling the facility’s electrical systems, are capable of conducting repair and maintenance work, one of the most crucial aspects in reducing data center downtime is ensuring that any required spare parts are immediately identified and made available.

This is precisely where AR comes in handy. Remote assistance platforms equipped with AR-based software can provide data center employees with fast first level support, offering troubleshooting guides and live tutorials via an application. These virtual service platforms can be used to monitor the health of critical electrical assets and equipment failures.

Having professional support and guidance available can also help reduce the possibility of human error, which may result in further system or equipment downtime. Remote assistance offers flexible, easy, fast real-time support, connecting a field operator with an expert, thereby reducing resolution time and optimizing maintenance through existing resources in the field.

Remote assistant systems are supporting personnel inside the data center, who will physically perform the required actions, guided by an expert. Remote systems do not have permission or the possibility to remotely manage or operate the equipment. This together with secured and encrypted gateways adds an extra level of cybersecurity and ensures uptime.

In summary, data center owners and operators are strongly encouraged to invest in intelligent digital components and solutions to ensure the availability of mission-critical systems when and where it matters. While the initial capital investment may appear steep at the onset, these smart solutions can help data centers remain poised and ready for growth by helping guarantee the availability of mission-critical systems, when and where it matters.

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