Two fundamental incentives for using modular UPS systems in data centre operations

As data centre operations strive for higher availability, they deploy redundancy at all infrastructure levels, from entire installations down to devices within them. Here, Ian Jackson, Managing Director at KOHLER Uninterruptible Power – Ireland (KUP), introduces this ubiquitous technique. He then explains how modular UPS technology can contribute to its success – while also improving power efficiency, which is another key data centre infrastructure objective.

Availability at all levels

According to a recently-released Uptime Institute report, ‘Annual Data Center Survey Results 2019’, distributed resiliency using active-active data centres is becoming more common. 40 percent of those surveyed said they use availability zones for resiliency – a strategy that requires at least two active data centres replicating data to each other.

Active-active strategies are also found at server level, where they are implemented using server clustering. To clients, the cluster behaves as a single server with one IP address. While active-passive configurations are possible, where one server is online while others stand by, active-active solutions, where each node shares the workload, are increasingly preferred. These offer more computing capacity as multiple servers are available for processing, while also providing redundancy; if one server fails, the others continue servicing the critical load without interruption.

UPS installations have always supported improved availability through redundancy, even before modular UPS designs. A 400kVA load, for example, could be supported by a single 400kVA monolithic UPS system to provide capacity-only protection. Alternatively, two such  UPS units could support the load with N+1 redundancy. However, the user had to purchase double the UPS capacity they really needed, while neither UPS unit is ever more than 50 percent loaded – and for transformer-based monolithic UPS systems, this severely impacts operating efficiency and increases the cooling load.

The arrival of modular UPS systems resolved these issues. The above 400kVA load could be met with a KUP KOHLER PW 9500DPA rack (Fig.1), populated with four 100kVA modules – or five, for N+1 redundancy. Only 20 percent, rather than 50 percent of the total capacity is needed for the same UPS redundancy.

Crucially, the KOHLER PW 9500DPA ’s has hot-swappable UPS modules, reducing repair times from a monolithic uninterruptible power supply’s average of 6 hours down to typically 30 minutes. Accordingly, modular UPS systems can offer ‘six nines’ or 99.9999 percent availability, compared with 99.9995 percent for legacy UPS solutions.


Fig.1: KOHLER PW 9500DPA

UPS modularity improves efficiency too

Transformerless modular UPS systems offer efficiency improvements over their transformer-based uninterruptible power supply counterparts. Partly through their technology’s inherently better efficiency, but also through close matching to their critical load. Being more fully-loaded allows optimal operating efficiency.

However, data centre loads can be both unpredictable and dynamic, so a UPS could become severely underloaded – and if load levels drop below 25 percent, even modular system efficiency starts falling off.

Xtra VFI technology prevents this by automatically adjusting the number of active modules to meet current load requirements. Excess UPS modules are switched to standby, but remain primed to transfer to active mode if the load increases. Fig.2 shows how the Xtra VFI operating mode can enhance UPS efficiency at low load levels for a KOHLER PW 9500DPA modular UPS system, with 10 UPS modules (100kW) and total available capacity of 1MW.


Fig.2: How Xtra VFI improves UPS efficiency on low load


We have seen how modular UPS topology improves both availability and efficiency. However, to achieve these results in practice, the underlying hardware must be of robust design and construction and undergo professional and regular UPS maintenance. Accordingly, it’s essential to discuss your power protection requirements with a reputable, well-resourced and experienced UPS supplier such as KOHLER Uninterruptible Power – Ireland to avoid risk of a UPS failure and its consequences for profitability, business continuity and reputation.

If you have any questions about our uninterruptible power supplies or UPS services please get in touch with KOHLER Uninterruptible Power via our contact page or call us on +353 (0)14606859.

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