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Loadbank testing – Surety in a shifting data centre market

Loadbank testing – Surety in a shifting data centre market

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The possibility of system failure is incomprehensible for data centre providers, with disruption from failing equipment subject to punitive fines, damaged reputations and worse. This situation can often arise from ineffective testing of critical infrastructure to ensure its resilience during peak times. Taking this into account, Greger Ruud, Sector Development Manager – Nordics Data Centres at Aggreko, discusses loadbank testing during the commissioning stage and its vital role in ensuring the continued running of facilities once online.

Disruption to data centres can be hugely impactful in today’s increasingly connected world, where the Internet is utterly fundamental to modern life. Power supply issues to these facilities are usually to blame for services going offline, which can lead to wide-ranging financial, reputational and operational implications for facility providers.

These scenarios can represent the worst possible situation for data centre owners and operators, so maintenance and testing are aspects they must address to best guarantee uptime. This includes looking at the performance of critical infrastructure and systems, including those for temperature control and power supply.

When the worst happens

Not carrying out appropriate testing can lead to stark consequences, as seen when an untested facility went unexpectedly offline as a UK bank was carrying out a significant IT migration in 2019. As this data centre had not been tested beforehand, quick fault-finding and remedial action was not possible.

As a result, over 2 million customers could not access their accounts, with the bank incurring a fine of £370 million in ‘post-migratory charges’. If appropriate testing had been carried out during the construction of the facility, it can be argued that steps could have been taken to address this fault beforehand, with this situation avoided entirely.

Varying markets and facilities

Of course, it must be noted that data centres vary in size, application and environment. This can be seen in the Nordics region, which is host to colocation and enterprise facilities in and around cities such as Helsinki, Copenhagen and Oslo, alongside hyperscale sites handling low-latency data in rural areas.

If effective testing is to be guaranteed despite these variations, appropriate technical expertise is required. A wide array of commissioning experts exist to meet this need, operating the specialist equipment required to help owners and operators put preventative strategies in place. As such, it is recommended facility owners engage these organisations to negate the possibility of failure.

Market trends

The impact of the Coronavirus and recent labour shortages in the data centre market complicate this ongoing concern. The constantly shifting travel restrictions enforced by many nations in the wake of COVID-19 can hamper the availability of data centre professionals from the UK and Ireland that are often sought after for the construction phase.

Similarly, skilled worker shortfalls in British construction, as highlighted by the Construction Skills Networks’ recent announcement that the industry will require 217,000 workers to meet demand by 2025, could pose problems. Complicating this even more is predictions of further data centre market growth, with one marketing intelligence firm suggesting a compound annual growth rate of 4% from 2021 to 2026 in Western Europe and the Nordics.

However, by looking at the possibility of hiring third-party expertise and equipment from suppliers such as Aggreko, data centre owners and operators could negate supply chain issues. Considering the potentially severe ramifications of inadequate testing, the ready availability of such resources, combined with ever-tightening deadlines for facility construction, could make this approach very attractive.

Global standardisation

When sourcing contractor expertise for testing, it is also key that project stakeholders ensure consistent quality regardless of the varying environments and complications that may arise from loadbank testing at differing facilities. This extends to pre-functional, individual and integrated systems testing, as well as factory and site acceptance testing.

Additionally, this expertise can also help improve a facility’s overall operational efficiency. By implementing strategies around the maintenance of key systems, including cooling and power infrastructure, data centre stakeholders can reduce ongoing OpEx costs. Data gleaned from these testing processes can also be used for benchmarking purposes, with metrics used to evaluate performance trends and how potential changes impact the overall system. Consequently, data centre owners and operators can be assured their facility has been extensively tested, inefficiencies have been pinpointed, and statistically-informed performance optimisation and predictive strategies can be put in place.

Best of both worlds

However, commissioning professionals must also be able to provide the best of both worlds – global standardisation and an awareness of local conditions. It bears repeating that no two sites are the same, with each having unique, pressing and newly developing concerns that could disrupt data centre operations.

For example, the Nordics region’s colder climate can affect humidity and moisture levels on a construction site that, if left unchecked, could lead to system failure. But as well as this, testing professionals need to be aware of climate change’s impact on the region, with areas such as Lapland experiencing record-high temperatures earlier this year.

Such differing temperatures necessitates an agile equipment procurement strategy throughout the year. Conversely, it also demonstrates the danger of not adopting more flexibility in this approach, as effective testing will not have been carried out in all environments under full load demand conditions.

Total cost of ownership

When considering the viability of loadbank testing, it’s important to note the total cost of ownership over a facility’s lifetime. Such processes, carried out by sector experts, will result in more efficient operations and bolster the resilience of key critical infrastructure, alongside providing owners and operators with peace of mind that their facility will remain resilient even under highly demanding conditions. However, achieving this may be difficult in a market currently suffering from skills shortages but still experiencing soaring demand for new projects.

In such scenarios, the ability to provide assurances on budgets and timescales is vital.  Aggreko, for example, can deploy large teams to Nordics-based data centre operators and contractors, providing multiple or single combined resistive and reactive loadbanks, as well as DC loadbanks and resistive-only AC loadbanks. These solutions can be used on single or three phrase and available in different sizes, with remote operation possible through hand-held devices and laptops. Data collection via this means can then be used for both loadbank testing and future strategies, further maintaining performance levels.

Ensuring effective loadbank testing is a huge priority for data centre providers looking to safeguard performance and avoid catastrophic, downtime-related consequences. With the Nordic data construction market currently under pressure due to skills shortages at a time of skyrocketing demand, readily accessible third-party expertise may be key to cost-effectively addressing this situation while ensuring resilience facilities.

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