When data center managers think about electrical power, it’s usually in terms of the quantity of power consumed by equipment and operations and how to make energy use more efficient. But equally as important is power quality, an assessment of the stability and reliability of incoming voltage and frequency as it moves through your facility. Power quality can impact more than productivity — power interruptions and fluctuations can be costly.

Smart managers pay attention to power quality issues and take steps to prevent them. Some of the most common power quality issues include:

  • Voltage sags, swells, and spikes: Brief decreases or increases of the voltage, at the power frequency, beyond the normal level.
  • Harmonic distortion: This occurs when the voltage or current waveform is altered from a sinusoidal shape.  It is common to non-linear loads, such as the types of electronics and processing equipment in data centers.
  • Interruptions and outages: Complete breaks in the supply of power that can last a few seconds, or much longer.

Causes can range from lightning and storms to faulty wiring or installation of equipment.

Effects of Poor Power Quality

Power quality issues can have consequences that include flickering lights, overheating equipment, printed circuit board failure, data processing errors and losses, reduced productivity, unexpected shutdowns, and complete service outages. For data centers, any resulting downtime can be particularly expensive. The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has determined that U.S. businesses lose between $119 billion and $188 billion per year because of poor power quality. And, according to the EPRI, 80 percent of power quality problems are caused by equipment and processes within the end user’s facility, not by the commercial electricity provider.

Addressing Power Quality Issues

One way to combat power quality issues is to use uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems, such as the Smart-UPS™ series from APC™ by Schneider Electric.  These systems “condition” incoming voltage, eliminating low or high fluctuations to deliver a steady, reliable flow of power. They can prevent interruptions that would cause downtime and protect against surges that would damage or destroy sensitive electronic equipment. Battery backups also allow time for safe shutdown of equipment in the event of an outage.

Power monitoring software, for example StruxureWare Power Monitoring Expert from APC™ by Schneider Electric, offers another solution to power quality issues. It can provide you with a complete overview and insight into your electrical infrastructure. Daily or weekly power usage information helps you evaluate system performance and take a proactive approach to solving potential issues. It can be difficult to tell whether equipment malfunction is caused by poor power quality. A power monitoring system will record power anomalies and equipment status, and this data helps managers to diagnose the problems. The information gathered is also useful for establishing preventive and predictive maintenance schedules, and for planning and implementing upgrades.

Data centers require an extremely high degree of electrical reliability. An awareness of power quality issues and how to address them is necessary for managers who want to protect their bottom lines from the prohibitive costs of downtime.