Arc Faults Plague Large Data Center

10-17-2013 2-50-12 PMData centers have gotten ever larger, with one high-profile center under construction plagued by arc-fault failures.

The Wall Street Journal reported that arc-fault failures have delayed the completion of the National Security Association’s data-storage center in Utah. IEEE Spectrum followed up with an examination of how data centers could be at risk.

In Utah, 10 such meltdowns have occurred over the past 13 months. A report from the design and construction team is pending.

Typical data centers are using older designs, which use far less power, but newer data centers have entered uncharted waters. With an emphasis on efficiency and space, some may have massive supercomputers using huge amounts of power.

The NSA data center uses 65 MW, while typical ones use about 20 MW.

The NSA’s problems may not be unique to Utah as more data goes to the cloud daily, driving the construction of bigger data centers.

An arc fault typically occurs inside the metal clad switch gear, where the power levels are the highest. It can happen downstream, if equipment designed for too low a current is installed, though that is less likely. But in the unique centers now demanded, calculations may be somewhat in error.

Data center designers may need to use less power, which would both benefit the environment and improve reliability. The centers are effective in cooling efficiency, electronic equipment— servers, storage arrays, networking gear—need to be more efficient as well. Such technology exists and is used in battery operated smart phones and smart tablets. This technology can be incorporated into data centers.

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