September 2015

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The Facilities Holding All That Data

Critical facilities are moving from cost centers to essential services providing the utilities that fuel businesses.
Una de BoerUna de Boer
Director of Marketing
Delta Controls Group

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Critical facilities have rightly been getting more attention, and more of the budget, from c-level executives.

“In a world full of ‘big data’ executives are turning their attention to how secure their business critical information is, which turns the spotlight on the facilities holding that data.”  John Nicholls, Executive Vice President, Delta Controls

In the last Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey published by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, done in 20121, 13,000 buildings had more than 50 dedicated servers in them. This is 3,000 more of the largest integrated data centers than in their previous survey, which was well before the ‘Internet of Things’ explosion of big data.

Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. All that data needs to be held securely, which means a similar, exponentially increasing demand for critical facilities.

Data centers, telecommunications centers, integrated laboratory spaces and clean rooms have previously all been viewed as cost centers in businesses, because of their high operating overheads. Each of them takes more energy per square foot than office space, meeting areas or any other portion of the facility that doesn’t require specialized equipment to maintain environmental control. The value that these critical spaces add to a facility has grown over the years. Facilities that house sensitive information find value in scaling up integrated data centers, especially when outsourcing data storage is not an option for security reasons. For educational and healthcare facilities, laboratories lead the research needed to gain grants for critical funding. Telecoms and networking needs continue to grow for all types of facilities. Network connectivity in the workplace is quickly becoming more important than power. If an office worker loses power to their area for an hour or two, they may be able to continue working on a laptop or UPS, but if their connection to internet, email and network files is removed, that’s a major productivity halting problem with business consequences.

The issue that the controls industry faces in meeting the needs of critical facilities is that there are specialized requirements for each of the space types. Designing and supplying controls for data centers requires knowledge specific to the field of data centers. They revolve around operational efficiency, scalability, and dependability or “uptime.” That last factor is so important that data centers are classified into four major tiers by an organization called the Uptime Institute. Tier 1, which is the lowest classification awarded by the Uptime Institute, starts at 99.671% availability for resources housed within a data center. This means that if a chiller is going to go down, you’re not going to be shutting down equipment until the problem is solved. Power can’t go offline to servers either. The system has to contain redundancies, to be able to perform above capacity, so that if one part falters another part can take over until repairs can be made. Additionally, data center facility managers need reporting and reaction times measured in seconds — far faster than the conventional times required by other facility types.

John Brough, Director of Operations for Delta Controls, Northern Europe, offers some insight on the relationship between data center operators and their customers. Data centers provide a service level agreement to their customers, who rent a portion of space within the data center, with tightly formed guarantees around infrastructure dependability and the availability of power. Verifying these guarantees means measuring and recording massive amounts of temperature and humidity data within the data center.

Brough goes on to say, “it is simply no longer feasible to expect that humans can process the colossal amounts of data being generated to monitor these facilities, and analytics must be brought into play.”

Kaizen from CopperTree Analytics, a sister company to Delta Controls, provides tailored solutions for data center operations and can automatically produce customized reports that are sent to customers, detailing environmental status and equipment power usage.

Delta Controls has developed products like the enteliBUS platform to meet the specialized needs of labs, operating rooms and isolation rooms. It’s scalable I/O in a small footprint that allows enteliBUS to grow in capacity with facilities such as data centers. The industry standard order of Hand – Off – Auto for override switches has been changed on enteliBUS. The Auto position has been placed in the center. This won’t sound like a game changer for many people, but for a data center facility manager, it means that a piece of equipment can be forced into the “always on” or “always off” positions without triggering a change of state in-between. For high powered cooling equipment, a change of state can trigger lengthy lockouts that data centers just can’t afford. Add to it that the enteliBUS modules are hot swappable, and you have a controller that has been designed from the ground up with critical facilities in mind.

Every aspect of a system has to support those specialized design philosophies though. Delta provides support for both ZigBee and EnOcean wireless protocols, allowing the deployment of wireless sensors that can be placed on server racks in data centers or in fume hoods in labs. Tiny remote thermistors can be added to many wireless sensors to take readings in the tightest spaces — a feature that data center facility managers use to their advantage to hunt down trouble spots in their racks. Because the sensors are wireless, they can be moved around to track issues and new sensors can be added inexpensively as the system expands.

“Adjusting a sequence in a critical system shouldn’t require a shutdown. With Delta’s programming ecosystem, it doesn’t.”  Jay Garbarino, Director of US Sales for Delta Controls

contemporary It’s that consideration that led to Delta’s current in-system programming capabilities for systems you just can’t shut off. Programs can be written to the controllers while the system is online. Every variable seen in the editor updates with values in real time. This means troubleshooting is much faster because technicians can see how the system is reacting to the changes they are making. Then those changes are pushed to the controller without the controller going offline, maintaining that essential uptime metric.

Across every industry, the increasing spend on critical facilities is showing us how important those spaces are. It’s a specialized area, with special requirements. Controls companies will need to establish themselves as experts that can bridge the gap between their own field of expertise and the critical facilities they want to serve. Critical facilities are moving from cost centers to essential services providing the utilities that fuel businesses. Whether you’re supporting the standards of patient comfort and disease control in a hospital, reducing energy costs for a university, or improving uptime performance for a data center, investing in the right control system and the right Systems Integrator is fundamental.

1"U.S. Energy Information Administration - EIA - Independent Statistics and Analysis." Energy Information Administration (EIA)- Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey (CBECS) Data. Accessed August 28, 2015.


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