Manufacturers’ focus on data centers
Designing efficient and effective data centers and mission critical facilities is a top priority for consulting engineers. Three manufacturers share information about their company’s products and solutions, plus data center trends.
- John Collins, Global Segment Director, Data Centers, Eaton Corp., Raleigh-Durham, N.C.
- Jim Dagley, Vice President, Channel Marketing & Strategy, Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee, Wis.
- John Kovach, Global Head of Data Center Initiatives, Siemens, Buffalo Grove, Ill.
CSE: What trends are you seeing in data centers and mission critical facilities?
John Collins, Eaton Corp.: One overall trend we have seen to cut costs and increase the speed of deployment is the gradual adoption of hosted data centers and applications. In terms of building new data centers, we have noticed that customers are now trying to balance the reliability of their infrastructure with the criticality of their IT applications instead of always seeking the most reliable data center possible. In the past, a majority of clients desired fully redundant, ultra-high-density architecture, but today a majority of clients are weighing the relationship between business requirements and reliability before making the final purchasing decision to reach greater electrical efficiencies and decrease upfront costs. Another trend we’ve noticed is that customers are adopting modern efficiency technologies at varying rates. For example, it took years for some customers to acknowledge that transformerless UPS systems are just as reliable (if not more so) as legacy designs. Similarly, it took years of testing for mainstream customers to feel comfortable implementing the advanced features of multi-mode UPS. On the other hand, we’ve noticed that a wide range of customers have rapidly adopted the newer strategy of raising data hall temperatures in combination with rack and aisle containment strategies to increase the effectiveness of economizer cooling and eliminate computer room air conditioners (CRACs). However, before implementing any new technology it’s always important to balance gains in efficiency against perceived risk to understand your facility’s tolerance for alternate approaches.
Jim Dagley, Johnson Controls: As computing and data storage demands increase, data center construction in the U.S. is projected to grow 4% to 6 % year-over-year, and by most accounts that is a conservative estimate. It’s also important to note that as computing equipment becomes smaller and energy usage increases, more heat is being generated in existing data centers—many of which are already operating at capacity with deferred maintenance needs. Our customers and engineering partners are most concerned about mitigating risk in the short and long terms, especially in the areas of power and cooling, performance, and budgets. Any new construction design or existing building retrofit must be flexible, scalable, secure, and fiscally efficient.
John Kovach, Siemens: We are continuing to see many traditional corporate clients—those where the data center is not the core business—move to collocation providers to meet their data center needs. In terms of priority in data centers, although uptime will always be the most important factor, it is clear that there is an increased focus on energy efficiency and carbon footprint. With general media and environmental groups looking more closely at the amount of power consumed in the data center space, we expect that trend to continue.
CSE: What's the most important advice you could offer an engineer considering your products?
Dagley: Consider designing the data center around a scalable, modular approach, which undoubtedly will support the customer’s short- and long-term needs. For example, power and cooling modules can be fabricated in a factory environment, making the specification more dependable and deployable in 10 to 12 months versus a 24- to 30-month timetable of traditional approaches—saving on-site time and possibly enabling early data center start-ups. Being modular in nature, the power and cooling plants can be designed according to the type/size of the data center and only require two-thirds of the space in a brick-and-mortar solution—supporting the customer’s data and storage needs for decades to come.
Kovach: Get us involved early in the process. As a global manufacturer with an extensive portfolio of data center products, services, and solutions, many engineers don’t fully leverage our broad base of knowledge. We have dedicated data center teams around the globe that can deliver these global solutions with the local expertise required to execute projects successfully.
Collins: Always familiarize yourself with vendor resources and never hesitate to take advantage of what is available. This responsibility falls on both the engineer and the vendor, but to provide the best solution it is always important to first be aware of the latest technologies. As new products and improvements to existing offerings are continuously announced throughout the year, Eaton is always updating and adding to our resource library of design reference materials to help streamline the design process while reducing error risk. Eaton also offers local technical application engineers that are always willing to help with application and design challenges.
CSE: What factors do engineers on such projects sometimes overlook?
Kovach: It’s often the small details that can cause significant issues down the line. For example, we’ve recently seen some confusion regarding control power considerations and sources. Of course, if the control power isn't well thought out, the equipment can’t operate properly. It can sometimes be overlooked in the overall design and present issues later during commissioning and testing.
Collins: While focusing on efficiency and methods to lower initial building expenses, electrical safety can sadly often take a back seat. It’s important to realize that a safer electrical infrastructure in mission critical facilities can lower the total cost of ownership by increasing reliability and keeping maintenance expenses down. For example, safety equipment such as arc-resistance switchgear not only minimizes injury risk, but also keeps equipment from needing to be replaced after an arc event. Similarly, circuit breakers can also be remotely operated or put into maintenance mode to reduce the personal protective equipment (PPE) requirement for the technician.
Dagley: There is a tendency to design within silos—specifying specific components without considering the need for integrations, PUE, commissioning, etc. And the age-old balance of first costs versus lifecycle cost continues to challenge the marketplace.
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.