The Evolution of Energy Management Systems: From Energy Reliability to Operational Efficiency

Not long ago I had occasion to revisit a white paper that I contributed some ideas to a good 10 years ago, titled “Powering the Digital Economy: How Energy Management Helps Maximize Power Reliability.” Schneider Electric recently published an updated version of the paper and what struck me most is how some issues like grid stability have stayed the same or perhaps gotten worse even as some big reliability ambitions have essentially been realized, and yet the justification for investment in power and energy management in data centers continues to expand and evolve with industry.

When the paper was originally published, it was intended to make the case that customers needed energy management systems because the electrical power grid wasn’t reliable enough to power our increasingly important data centers. As the paper said:

The power grid was developed to deliver “three nines” of clean, reliable power; that is, it provides a constant flow of energy 99.9% of the time. This translates to less than nine hours of downtime a year. This is sufficient for lighting systems and motor loads, but new digital assets and processes require very precise streams of electrons at highly regulated voltages, translating to power reliability as high as “six nines” (99.9999%, or less than 30 seconds of downtime a year) or higher.

Fast forward to 2015 and the reliability of the power grid certainly hasn’t improved and many would justifiably argue that it has ultimately gotten worse. Fortunately though, the evolutions in redundancy design, in a focus on standardization and industry best practices, and in an adherence to rigorous process and standard operating procedures backed up with real time performance data delivered by the energy management systems we wrote about a decade ago have created a new reality where reliability and power quality are manageable variables in spite of the current state of the grid.

So, from this fundamental core we are now in an era where the energy management system is being leveraged for more than keeping the electrons speeding along the wires and circuit boards. The same meters that continue to provide insights into uptime are also serving up data and analysis perspectives to improve data center operational efficiency and reduce costs in a variety of ways.

Take power usage effectiveness (PUE), for example. Calculating PUE using simple spreadsheet calculations or other estimation methods are insufficient for capitalizing on opportunities for improvement that happen in real time and change over the lifecycle of the data center. The inherent accuracy of the metering devices and the timeliness in the transfer of data from the meter to the energy management system for both instantaneous evaluation and long term trending are essential to fine tuning the equipment and systems to achieve peak PUE efficiency.

And PUE efficiency is often highly correlated to improvements and reductions in energy consumption and cost, and in management and reduction of carbon emissions. Increasingly, enterprises and data center hosting companies alike are looking to efficiency improvements from their energy dense data centers to support their overall sustainability and carbon reduction goals, and this has direct impacts on keeping customers, regulators and investors happy in addition to the benefits it presents to the bottom line.

Energy management systems also play a key role in evaluating overall data center utilization, identifying zones that are at peak capacity or others that are under performing. This data also become crucial for future capacity planning, data center expansion and even for evaluating new data center designs to the benefit of future and lower capital expenditures.

The systems also lead to improved operations and maintenance. This can be a basis for more accurately calculating the current level of risk related to possible interruptions or complete outages. Monitoring critical equipment for specific indicators of operation will help you determine when a given component is exceeding its tolerances, help you proactively plan maintenance and repair before the issues become critical, and help you address the underlying causes to mitigate the risks in the future. These additional insights can also lead to a reduction in the number of people required to operate and interact with the equipment – human error is still one of the primary causes of downtime after all – helping companies get the same results with a leaner, less risky and less costly operations team.

Check out the updated version of “Powering the Digital Economy: How Energy Management Helps Maximize Power Reliability” to see how far we’ve come even as we consider where we need to be now and in the future. And you may also be interested in these other papers from a few years ago that similarly focuses on the additional value of energy management systems. Click here to download a pdf of the paper, “Maximizing Data Center Reliability and Utilization Using Enterprise Energy Management Technology.” Click here to download a pdf of the paper, “Tackling Today’s Data Center Energy Efficiency Challenges – A Software-Oriented Approach .” For more information about power management solutions, please visit our website.

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