Why is engaging loadbank testing expertise important?

For data centre providers, system failure can represent the worst possible scenario, with every minute of downtime leading to rising costs and reputational damage. This situation is usually a result of failing equipment, which can occur due to ineffective testing of critical infrastructure for periods of high demand. With this in mind, Greger Ruud, Sector Development Manager – Nordics Datacenters at Aggreko, discusses the importance and effects of carrying out loadbank testing at the commissioning stage.

Data centres are increasingly vital to the continued running of the modern world, meaning system failure can be seen as nothing short of catastrophic. With breakdowns punished financially and reputationally, failures of this kind should be regarded must-avoid situation.

The disruption of power supplies is often to blame for data centres being taken offline. Consequently, it is vital facility owners and operators take steps to ensure uptime is constantly maintained and safeguarded. One such way of doing this is through the comprehensive testing of critical infrastructure, including power and temperature control systems.

Consequences of downtime

Not carrying out this necessary procedure can be costly, as shown when an untested data centre went offline in 2019 during a significant IT migration for a UK bank. With the IT services arm of the bank’s owners opting to test only one facility ahead of time, the cause of the major outage at the other data centre was impossible to identify.

Two million customers were therefore unable to access their accounts for a prolonged period, with the bank being fined £370m in ‘post-migration charges’ as a result. These severe consequences could have been avoided if effective testing had been carried out before the data centre went online and put into a demanding situation, as potential concerns could have been pinpointed and remedied beforehand.

The Nordics

In terms of infrastructure, demand, and applications no two data centres are the same. The Nordics in particular host a wide variety of facilities, from large hyperscale sites in rural Denmark, Sweden and Finland facilitating low-latency data, to comparatively smaller enterprise and co-location facilities situated in or near capital cities.

Technical expertise is therefore required to ensure different types of testing can be carried out appropriately and effectively. Consequently, there are multiple organisations with specialised equipment and expertise to carry out effective loadbank testing processes, and help data centre providers reap the benefits of these well-executed strategies.

The coronavirus has also presented organisations with logistical concerns in the data centre market, necessitating a pragmatic approach. Specifically, the effect COVID-19 has had on supply chains has been pronounced and ongoing, with British and Irish professionals sought after for their expertise, subject to travel protocols. As well as this, skills shortages in the construction sector present further roadblocks for building new data centres.

Faced with these pressures, alongside a continually booming data centres market in the Nordics and often-ambitious deadlines, the ability to access readily available expertise from commission experts and suppliers such as Aggreko has become even more important. Indeed, considering the penalties that may be accrued from disruption to project deadlines and the consequences of inadequate testing, identifying organisations that can carry out effective loadbank testing, while remaining on schedule, has become a paramount concern.

International reach

Alongside being able to better ensure the availability of necessary expertise within deadline-friendly time windows, suppliers with an international reach can also offer standardised, first-rate equipment testing. So, while different regions may have divergent conditions, climates and pose different obstacles, the fact a baseline of quality exists regardless of these variables is crucial to negating the possibility of disrupted data centre operations.

Fundamentally, these suppliers need to provide a balance of local knowledge and globally-recognised expertise for facility owners and operators looking to source testing and commissioning professionals. The ability to offer a standardised service at all levels, including factory and site acceptance testing, to pre-functional, individual and integrated systems testing is already a must for contractors.

Combining this with an awareness of location-specific factors that could affect this testing turns a previously good service into a marketing-leading one. In the Nordics, this includes taking account of the traditionally colder climate, its impact on humidity and moisture levels, and the ensuing risks of equipment failure.

Considering areas such as Lapland have also experienced record-breaking highs in temperature earlier this year, a level of flexibility between the seasons may also be required. Such a level of knowledge is vital for contractors looking to put systems in place to negate the possibility of equipment failure. Conversely, a lack of awareness could lead to measures not being put in place, with disastrous consequences if effective testing has not been carried out under full load demand conditions.

Cost-effective maintenance

An additional benefit of sourcing testing suppliers with local and global reach is that this ranging expertise can help improve a facility’s operational efficiency. Indeed, putting in place precautions around key equipment, such as power and cooling infrastructure, will optimise performance, resulting in lower ongoing opex and maintenance costs. Yet alongside providing data centre stakeholders with peace-of-mind that systems have been comprehensively installed and integrated, these processes can also help owners and operators avoid costly issues and unplanned downtime across a facility’s lifetime.

Because equipment has been tested to correct levels during the commissioning phase, issues can be identified and resolved earlier on. Due to this, data centre owners and operators are able to prioritise the implementation of effective procedures for effective maintenance of their facility. Consequently, the environment can be made more efficient and safer for those on site.

Alongside this, the large quantities of data acquired during this testing process can be used to benchmark the impact of system changes and identify ongoing performance trends. It can also be used to negate potential issues before they arise and hamper operations, by allowing stakeholders to put predictive procedures and maintenance strategies.

Offsetting commissioning costs

From a financial standpoint, these loadbank testing benefits, effectively executed by sector experts, will more than offset commissioning costs. Putting these processes in place will subsequently give facility owners and operators confidence in the resilience of their critical infrastructure even under demanding loads increasingly expected of modern data centres. Yet sourcing necessary expertise may be difficult in a market affected by labour shortages and COVID, meaning assurances around carrying out testing within tight construction deadlines are more important than ever.

Aggreko, for example, has a sizeable team available to data centre contractors and operators working in the Nordics, providing resistive-only AC loadbanks, DC loadbanks, and combined resistive and reactive loadbanks in single or multiple units. Able to be controlled remotely via laptops or hand-held devices, they can be used on single or three-phase systems and are available in varying sizes. Consequently, they can easily collect data for bespoke loadbank testing and data collection for future reference.

Travel restrictions and issues in the labour market remain an ongoing concern for data centre providers, so being able to engage expertise on-time and to budget is invaluable. By using service providers such as Aggreko, facility owners and operators can implement readily available expertise to ensure optimal resilient, reliable and high-performing data centres from the outset.

Marc Garner, VP, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric UK & Ireland The data centre sector skills shortage has been documented by industry publications and research firms for almost a decade. In fact, a report published by Gartner in 2016 found 80% of firms expected to find their growth held back due to a lack of new data centre skills, with the McKinsey Global Institute predicting a global shortage of 1.5 million qualified data centre managers as early as 2015.
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