Data centers are an integral part of modern life, but without electricity, they’re just row after row of expensive paperweights. Hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters can knock out power for days or weeks, leaving operators scrambling to keep things running smoothly.
However, there are ways data centers can remain operational despite the weather. Here’s how they can prepare for and even prevent power outages.
Understanding the Demand
Data centers are among the largest power users in the world. Experts estimate that they consumed as much as 400 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity worldwide, or nearly 2% of the power generated annually, in 2020.
This power doesn’t go to waste. Despite the heavy consumption, new studies show that these data centers are becoming more efficient yearly. These centers support everything from cloud computing to streaming services and everything in between. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do much good if the power goes out.
Preparing for or Preventing Outages
People don’t always know when the power is going to go out. Foul weather or natural disasters can throw a wrench in the works, but some neighborhoods might lose energy while others stay connected, seemingly at random. Keeping data centers online is equal parts preparation and prevention.
First, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Start by getting your electricity from multiple power sources or utilities. If one goes down, the others may still offer support, even if it’s at a diminished capacity. Ensure you install a system that switches between these supplies automatically if one fails to prevent interruption.
Backup power sources are essential to any data center’s power infrastructure. These can take many forms, from generators and batteries to uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems. A data center UPS appliance has two primary functions – backup energy in an outage and preventing damage caused by surges.
If preventing an outage isn’t an option, these backups should keep things moving until the power comes back or you can explore other options.
Strengthening the Grid
Data center operators can take all the precautions in the world, but it doesn’t help if the grid outside falls apart. Utility companies in places that experience frequent weather-related outages have started taking steps to strengthen the grid and reduce the number of blackouts in a given area.
Duke Energy, one of the largest power providers in the hurricane-battered southeast region of the U.S., has begun installing self-healing grid technology in some North Carolina counties. Self-healing grid technology isn’t going to fix downed power lines. Instead, it uses automation to detect surges or damage, rerouting energy to ensure the lights stay on and customers can access the power they need. According to the company, the self-healing grid has prevented more than 10,000 customer outages in 2022 thus far.
Anticipating Other Outages
Power failures aren’t the only outages data centers face – and they’re not the most common in 2022. IT software and configuration are the most significant cause of blackouts, at 42%. Network IT comes in at 21%, while power only represents around 4% of recorded outages.
This should not downplay the risk presented by power outages, especially in parts of the country prone to severe weather or natural disasters. It’s important to understand that blackouts aren’t the only thing that may interfere with your ability to access the information housed within these data centers.
Keeping the Lights On
Preventing power outages isn’t always possible. They will happen despite efforts to circumvent them. However, preparing for the inevitable with backup power systems can make it easier to keep the lights on when everything around you is shutting down. This will keep data centers running, whatever Mother Nature sends their way.
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