The NEC Energy Solutions Blog

Quick guide – using energy storage in the data center

A well-designed energy storage system can play an integral role in improving data center resiliency. Disaster recovery has always been a key issue in the data center sector, but there has been a growing focus on these processes in recent years. To some extent, the focus on disaster recovery comes because organizations are becoming more dependent on IT systems – the cost of outages rises as business productivity declines precipitously when IT systems are unavailable. At the same time, the rise of cloud computing, colocation and other data center hosting services has led to a rise in mega data centers – large facilities that provide services to a wide range of businesses. These organizations deliver value through reliable data center services, so protecting against disasters is a mission-critical competency.

These factors come together to many energy storage systems important in the data center. Batteries can be used to minimize the impact of disaster events, even to the point of preventing an outage from occurring in the first place. Finding success in this area can be very simple, but you need to plan carefully to maximize the value of your deployment. This guide deals with the primary issues you need to keep in mind when using batteries in the data center.

"Energy storage can be invaluable in modern data centers."

Put bridge-to-backup first
You can use batteries in a variety of ways in the data center, but bridge-to-backup functionality is usually the core competency for an energy storage solution in data facilities. Bridge-to-backup is a fairly simple concept. Most data centers use uninterruptable power supplies for primary energy delivery, and they usually have fuel generators as their backup option. Most problems arise when a power outage disrupts energy delivery to the UPS platform, forcing data center operators to switch over to their backup generators. There is usually a delay of a few minutes during this transition – not enough time to seem problematic from the outside looking in.

The data center world is, however, unique. What may look like a simple issue – losing power for a 30 seconds or a couple of minutes – is a huge concern in the data center. The actual time without access to power is short, but the time and effort required to manually restart servers, storage machines and network equipment that do not restart on their own can be substantial. A study from the Ponemon Institute and Emerson Network Power found that the cost-per-minute of data center outages increased 41 percent from 2010 to 2013, rising from $5,617 to $7,908. Approximately 91 percent of respondents to the study said they had experienced an unexpected outage within the past 24 months prior to the survey.

If you can avoid even a short outage, you can quickly save significant amounts of money. An energy storage system can provide bridge-to-backup functionality – offering consistent power when a UPS has failed for any reason and generators are not yet running. Emphasizing bridge-to-backup functionality in your battery deployment can lead to significant value creation in data centers.

Keep alternate options in mind
Bridge-to-backup deployments are the low-hanging fruit for battery use in data centers, but there are other ways to take advantage of the technology. In particular, increased use of on-site renewables at data centers creates new opportunities for energy storage use. An April 2014 study from Greenpeace found that the energy demands of the data centers that power the Internet are staggering. While some major organizations are still clinging to traditional, dirty energy sources, many industry leaders have already embraced renewables to support their data centers. Organizations like Apple, Facebook, Box, Rackspace, Google and Salesforce have adopted new energy acquisition models – including an increased dependence on renewables. Moving forward, increasing renewable energy use in data centers is a huge environmental priority.

The intermittent nature of wind and solar power makes energy storage invaluable for data centers, as a well-designed solution can improve reliability and efficiency, creating value in diverse ways.

Making the most of energy storage
We've addressed the key use cases for energy storage in the data center, but you need to look at more than just why you should use the technology and also consider how. A few key issues stand out when it comes to maximizing the value of the technology:

  • Choose the right cell chemistry – Lead-acid batteries are cheap, but they have a relatively short life cycle and present some safety challenges. Lithium ion batteries provide enough resiliency to be worth the initial costs. New battery chemistries are emerging on the market – make sure your vendor can offer you the best option for your needs.
  • Consider the whole battery system – There's more to batteries than the cell – a good vendor will create a fully featured systems that helps you optimize your solution.
  • Get meaningful help – Working with a vendor that has a consultative attitude can spur value creation.

Take full advantage of lithium ion batteries
Deploying high-power lithium ion batteries as a bridge-to-backup energy source in your data center isn't just beneficial from an operational perspective, it also pays dividends when it comes to facility design and optimization. Lead-acid batteries are large and heavy, often forcing organizations to use a significant portion of the data center floor to house them and making floor reinforcement necessary. Using less space by reducing the hardware footprint in a facility also helps organizations establish optimal airflow strategies, contributing to energy efficiency gains and lower cooling costs. All told, a high-power lithium ion battery system can reduce the size of UPS battery backup systems by 13 times compared to lead-acid alternatives.

Energy storage can be invaluable in modern data centers. Following this guide on how you can use batteries and what you should look for when choosing a solution can help you maximize your potential return on investment.

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