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Data center power protection is a heightened priority for building owners and operators who manage these facilities.

How 2023’s Biggest Blackouts Can Point the Way Forward for Data Centers

March 4, 2024
The demand for data centers is soaring, and so is the importance of power protection. These strategies will help data center facility managers bolster disaster avoidance and mitigate downtime issues.

The demand for data centers is soaring as the world continues to embrace digitalization and interconnectivity. These facilities house critical data and provide essential services to businesses and consumers amid an evolving digital economy.

Because of the increasing importance of data centers in the modern technology landscape, power protection is becoming a heightened priority for building owners and operators responsible for managing these facilities. At a time when extreme weather events are growing in frequency and intensity, it’s especially important to understand the latest disaster avoidance strategies to prepare for what Mother Nature might bring in 2024. 

6 Significant 2023 Power Outages

Looking back at significant weather events from the past year offers useful perspective on the growing importance of disaster preparedness. From extreme heat and summer wildfires to ice storms and heavy snowfall, severe weather can emerge quickly and cause extended, debilitating power outages for organizations that lack a proper defense. Here are some of the biggest outages that impacted stakeholders in 2023:

1. Wild weather travel cross-country: On Feb. 22, few states were left unaffected by extreme weather. While a winter storm closed interstate highways from Arizona to Wyoming and prompted the first blizzard warning in Southern California in decades, record highs were broken throughout cities in the Midwest, mid-Atlantic and Southeast. The events caused significant outages, with more than 811,000 recorded in Michigan; 58,000 in Wisconsin; and over 41,000 in California, among others.

2. A crawling, catastrophic storm: Nearly 1 million customers were left in the dark after a powerful winter storm made its way across the Great Lakes, South and mid-Atlantic states on March 3, causing crews to work around the clock to restore power. The next day, hundreds of thousands remained without power in Kentucky, Tennessee and Michigan, and even more in Alabama, West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

3. Torrential rain washed out power: More than 500,000 homes and businesses were without power across California on Jan. 8 as the state faced heavy rain, high winds and potential floods. Areas across the state prepared to endure five to seven inches of rain over a nine-day period.

4. Midwestern mess: On June 29, a line of severe thunderstorms produced rain, hail and winds up to 70 mph, leaving nearly 500,000 people facing power outages in Indiana and Illinois. Utilities warned customers to expect more outages as forecasts called for “an unsettled weather pattern” to move into the area.

5. Biggest outage in three decades levels San Francisco: The San Francisco Bay Area suffered its worst power outage since 1995 on March 14 due to a week-long storm. The heavy rains and high winds left 450,000 customers in the dark. In the Santa Cruz Mountains, wind gusts hit 97 mph as downed trees toppled power lines.

6. Floods, winds and widespread blackouts: A powerful storm in New England brought over 3 inches of rain on Dec. 19, leading to floods and power outages for over 600,000 people. The storm’s aftermath saw thousands of workers rushing to restore power amidst extensive damage.

Preparing for 2024

In response to the potential weather threats of 2024, data center owners and facility managers should review their current power management strategies and consider upgrades to strengthen their disaster preparedness approach, taking into account both current demands and future resilience needs. For example, uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) continue to play a crucial role in backup power systems by providing a bridge to generator power in the event of an outage. Integrating advanced technologies like lithium-ion batteries in UPSs can help to enhance the lifespan of the solution and reduce the need for costly maintenance.

An important emerging innovation in UPS technology is the ability to leverage the energy storage capabilities of lithium-ion batteries within the UPS to act as a distributed energy resource (DER) for the energy grid, effectively creating a grid-interactive UPS. Operators can use this innovation to enhance resiliency while reducing operating costs and generating new revenue opportunities through applications such as peak shaving to help avoid or reduce demand charges; shifting energy consumption for time-of-use rate optimization; providing frequency regulation to help grid operators meet explosive growth demands; and balance the impact of increasing renewable production.

The digital transformation of the data center has led to the emergence of new digital tools to better manage and monitor resources both within the data center as well as across distributed networks. As data centers adapt to increasing power demands, data center performance management software (DCPM) can be used to monitor critical power management assets; provide trends, alerts and reports; and manage power, space and cooling resources to maximize IT application uptime, all while minimizing capital and operating expenditures.

Going hand-in-hand with power management software are preventive monitoring services, which help anticipate the failure of critical components before they occur. Using predictive analytics, these services can notify managers when to schedule maintenance, repairs or updates before system components fail, avoiding emergency service calls and using convenient maintenance windows.

Finally, operators should look to invest in industrial-grade hardware devices—such as surge protective devices as well as rack and cabinet power distribution units (PDUs)— to help bolster disaster preparedness, creating a system designed to keep valuable assets safe and powered during unforeseen events.

A Look at the Brighter Side

While extreme weather events can be difficult to forecast, data center owners and facility managers can find peace of mind in being prepared. Teams should assess their risks by calculating their proximity to severe weather events along with determining which components of their operational and IT infrastructure may be most susceptible to downtime.

Making the right strategic investments now to improve disaster preparedness can help to avoid loss of critical data and safeguard assets in the year to come and beyond.

About the Author

Ed Spears | Technical marketing manager, Critical Power & Digital Infrastructure Division, Eaton

Ed Spears is a technical marketing manager in Eaton’s Critical Power & Digital Infrastructure Division in Raleigh, North Carolina. A 40-year veteran of the power-systems industry, Ed has experience in UPS systems testing, sales, applications engineering and training — as well as working in power-quality engineering and marketing for telecommunications, data centers, cable television and broadband public networks.

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