Your questions answered: Energy management in data centers

Schneider Electric’s Greg Vlassopoulos answers audience questions about energy monitoring systems in data centers

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer March 11, 2024
Bearded IT Technician in Glasses with Laptop Computer and Black Male Engineer Colleague are Using Laptop in Data Center while Working Next to Server Racks. Running Diagnostics or Doing Maintenance Work

Data center management insights

  • The integration of BMS and EPMS streamlines data management, enhances reporting and helps monitor sustainability goals.
  • PLCs excel in industrial automation, while BMS controllers are tailored for building automation.

During the February 20th webcast, How to use energy monitoring systems to optimize data center operations, Greg Vlassopoulos offered strategies for energy management systems in data centers. Audience questions that were unanswered during the presentation are answered here.

Do owners still prefer electrical and mechanical monitoring to be separated in many cases?

Greg Vlassopoulos: Building owners have varying preferences. Some may prefer them to be separate to allow for a more focused and specialized monitoring approach for each system, while others may prefer an integrated approach for a comprehensive view of the building’s overall performance. It depends on the specific needs, priorities and the organizational management structure of the building owner.

Connecting systems allows for greater data sharing capabilities and increases simplicity to view data as a single source. Another area that might benefit from connected systems is sustainability goal tracking. By integrating the building management system (BMS) and electrical power management system (EPMS), you can increase efficiency and reporting functionality.

What is the difference between downtime and outage protection time?

Greg Vlassopoulos: Downtime refers to the period during which a system, machine or equipment is not operational or available for use. It is the duration when production, services or normal operations are disrupted due to equipment failure, maintenance or other issues.

Outage protection time refers to the duration for which a system can continue to operate without external power. It is a measure of how long critical systems can remain functional using backup power sources such as uninterruptible power supply systems or generators.

Downtime and outage protection time are both related to the availability and reliability of systems, but refer to different concepts.

Is there any BMS and input/output (I/O) control function that a programmable logic controller (PLC) cannot perform?

Greg Vlassopoulos: In a BMS, there are certain I/O control functions that a PLC may not be fully suited to perform. These functions often involve complex, high-level building automation tasks such as advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) control, lighting control, energy management, security or access control integration. A BMS often has stand-alone controllers specifically designed to collect data from devices and that are distributed throughout the building, whereas a PLC uses remote I/O with centralized control logic in the PLC. PLCs are primarily designed for industrial automation and control.

Are there any BMS controller functions that are not available in PLCs?

Greg Vlassopoulos: Yes. Several specialized BMS controller functions, which are specifically designed for BMS and not typically available in traditional PLCs, include the integration of multiple systems (HVAC, lighting, access control, fire alarm and energy management systems) and occupancy-based control. PLCs are essential for machine and process control in manufacturing and industrial settings, but BMS controllers are designed to address the unique and complex requirements of building automation and management. Understanding the specific capabilities of each system is crucial when designing and implementing control and automation solutions for building systems.

How many controls point to assign for cost estimating for HVAC?

Greg Vlassopoulos: The number of control points that need to be assigned can vary based on the complexity and size of the HVAC system, as well as the specific requirements of the building. The following control points are commonly considered for cost estimating; temperature control points, humidity control points, airflow control points, pressure control points, system integration points and equipment monitoring points.

The actual number of control points will depend on the specific design, functionality and automation requirements of the HVAC system. Additionally, advancements in building automation technology, including the use of smart sensors and Internet of Things devices, may impact the number and types of control points needed for accurate cost estimation and effective system control.

Where would data center infrastructure management (DCIM) fit into this scheme?

Greg Vlassopoulos: DCIM fits into the broader scheme of managing and optimizing data center resources and is a critical component to the efficiency of data center operations. It involves monitoring and managing the infrastructure and assets within a data center; including power, cooling, space and network connections. DCIM solutions help improve energy efficiency, equipment utilization and overall operational efficiency within data centers. This is crucial for ensuring smooth and reliable data center operations and can share this data with the BMS & EPMS systems to increase efficiency in data collection and alarming.

How does frequency affect power usage effectiveness (PUE)?

Greg Vlassopoulos: The specific impact of frequency on PUE can depend on various factors, such as the design of the data center, the types of information technology (IT) equipment used and the overall power distribution architecture. The frequency at which power is supplied to IT equipment can affect PUE in a few ways. Generally, higher frequency power distribution systems can lead to improved energy efficiency due to reduced energy losses in transformers and distribution equipment. Additionally, higher frequency systems can enable more efficient power supplies for IT equipment, leading to better overall PUE.

From cost perspective how does the PLC control compare with BMS?

Greg Vlassopoulos: PLC control systems and BMS control systems have different cost considerations. PLCs are typically used for controlling specific equipment or processes within a facility and are often more specialized. The cost of PLC control systems can vary widely depending on the complexity and scale of the control requirements.

BMS control systems are designed to monitor and manage a broader range of building systems such as HVAC, lighting and security. BMS systems are more comprehensive and can provide centralized and distributed control and monitoring. The cost of BMS control systems also varies based on the size of the building, the number of systems being integrated and the level of automation and intelligence required.

Overall, PLC control systems may have a more specific and targeted cost based on the individual equipment being controlled, while BMS control systems may have a broader cost impact due to their ability to integrate and manage multiple building systems.

What specific codes should engineers be mindful of?

Greg Vlassopoulos: Being mindful of relevant building codes and standards that govern the design, installation and operation of BMS systems, some specific codes and standards to consider include;

ASHRAE standards such as ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings for energy efficiency and ASHRAE Standard 135: BACnet — A Data Communication Protocol for Building Automation and Control Networks.

Compliance with these codes and standards is essential for ensuring the safety, reliability, and energy efficiency of BMS systems within data center facilities. It’s important to consult with experts and stay informed about the latest updates to relevant codes and standards in your region.

Is EPMS similar to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system?

Greg Vlassopoulos: An EPMS is a specialized SCADA system specifically designed for electrical distribution, but they serve distinct purposes in industrial and infrastructure control systems. EPMS is specifically focused on monitoring, controlling and optimizing electrical power systems within facilities like data centers. Its primary functions include monitoring power.

How can we protect our system with hackers?

Greg Vlassopoulos: Protecting data center BMSs from hackers is crucial for maintaining the security and integrity of critical infrastructure. Some essential measures to consider include network segmentation, strong authentication, regular updates and patches, access control, encryption, intrusion detection systems, security training, physical security, incident response plan and regular security audits (penetration testing). By implementing these measures, you can significantly enhance the security posture of your data center BMS and reduce the risk of unauthorized access and cyber threats.

Explain the difference between resiliency and redundancy.

Greg Vlassopoulos: Resiliency in a data center refers to its ability to maintain operations and adapt to changes, such as power outages or hardware failures, without impacting performance. Redundancy involves the duplication of critical components or systems within the data center to provide backups in case of failure, ensuring continuous operation. While resiliency focuses on the overall ability to withstand disruptions, redundancy specifically involves having extra resources in place as backups.

What kind of data is used by the EPMS that helps the data center?

Greg Vlassopoulos: The EPMS uses various types of data to help optimize and manage the data center. This includes disturbance detection, wave form captures, sequence of event recording, power usage data, environmental data, equipment performance data, energy cost data and predictive analytics data. By leveraging data, the EPMS helps data center operators make informed decisions to improve energy efficiency, reliability and performance.