A Unique Data Center “Power Story”

Written by Frank W. Hutchison III, Chief Technology Officer and Owner…

You may have heard the saying that all data centers are not created equally. That, in itself, is a severe understatement as businesses are inundated with marketing material that speaks to 100% uptime and tier specifications in a manner that can be easily misinterpreted.

The most important things to remember when choosing a data center are the required reliability and availability of critical resources in order to meet operational objectives, and the best way to find out if the claims for a data center are true is to simply ask the data center operator to tell you its POWER story in detail. It’s not about the typical marketing material and the industry ‘hot’ words; rather, it’s about the cold, hard facts that make the data center what it claims to be.  A data center’s POWER SCHEME is the  cornerstone of its operational infrastructure (OI) and the key resource in assuring your mission-critical operational success.

Many times, you’ll read that the power coming into the data center is 2N (implying redundant, full-capacity services). This can be a very misleading statement because you think to yourself that 2N means you’ll have two, separate, full-capacity power feeds coming into the building from the electric utility. While this may be true, it does not indicate the resilience imagined/indicated by the 2N claim without further investigation.  What often happens is that there is a single substation supplying two distribution-potential services to the property. So technically, this would be 2N power service, but unfortunately, the stated/implied 2N redundancy stops at the single substation.  As with all redundant schemes (the first common point and its operating characteristics must be known). It is critical to understand where all the supplied services (communications, power, water, etc.) become common (supplied by a single source).

Uptime Institute Tier classifications are certainly indicators to consider when evaluating data center capabilities, but they are antiquated methods and don’t reveal potential OI weaknesses, especially the ability to meet required overall operational resilience.  Here’s an example: I can name multiple data centers that have received Tier 3 (N+1) certification for availability and the staff will give you a tour and talk extensively about how the center is run operationally and how, if the power fails, they have it backed up and covered. But, here’s the rub, many of these data centers are often engineered with that same, single substation power feed and have one extra generator as a backup. Sure, this meets to some degree the power criteria and backup scenarios for Tier 3 certification, but if reviewed in depth it is not a POWER story that can deliver the degree of certainty required for your 21st century business to remain connected. It’s the same scenario with the 2N marketing example above – it sounds great, alternate routes into the building, but is it really 2N? If so, how deep is the redundant path?  Again, it is necessary to dig deeper!  Failure to do so sets the stage for some ugly, expensive surprises for you and your customers.

Look at the two examples above – you hear the traditional  2N power marketing story or a data center touts its Tier 3 certification with a single substation and extra generator. Now, compare those two power stories to this one:

  • The local electric supplies dual primary-potential service from geographically separated, fully redundant substations providing full-capacity redundant service to the facility. Each substation is directly tied into independent transmission in-feeds from the power generation supplier. In addition, the individual substations are loop fed, which adds an additional layer of redundancy. In the event of an outage occurring at Substation A it becomes the number 1 priority substation to be returned to service as it also supplies power for the City water supply, major hospitals and communication carriers. Substation B is in the top 5 substations worked on in a power outage because it supplies power to other parts of the City. And, studies confirm that neither substation has ever gone down at the same time in history. Moreover, the local electric company providing the service continuously improves and monitors its system for reliability/availability and is identified in the Top 1% of power companies in the US and a Diamond Award recipient from the Reliable Power 3 (RP3) certification process.

There is no comparison between the above examples and it’s important to understand all the power differences between data centers. Where do you want your mission critical applications and data to be housed? How about your cloud business? What about basic piece of mind and confidence? Granted, there are many factors that play into choosing a data center to house your enterprise-critical ICT operations, and those cannot be discounted in any way. But, and this is HUGE, the POWER story should be a major critical decision criteria in making your final decision; or more realistically, it should probably be the primary critical decision criteria.

We must dig deeper than the marketing stories and sales pitches! You need to know the relationship between the electric utility and the data center operator. Is it a vendor-customer relationship or is it a true partnership? These, and a host of other questions and answers, are crucially important pieces of the puzzle in choosing a data center provider. Your potential data center provider must be able to demonstrate that these features exist in their offerings.  To be clear, they often do not.

SH Data Technologies has one of the premier POWER stories in the data center industry. We do indeed have a true partnership with our local electric utility that most data center operators would have great difficulty duplicating today—if ever. Please let us review with you our POWER story (hint: you may have already heard it) and why The FORT is a truly special data center.

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