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5 Steps to Secure 'The Cloud'

Jan. 20, 2017
Sponsored by S&C Electric Co.

Or any mission-critical system

In an era of smart phones, on-line transactions, and intelligent electronic devices, everyone wants to know their data is safe in the “cloud.”  Of course, the cloud is really a vast network of data centers that has in a relatively short period of time become the nerve center of business and society.  A momentary failure in one data center can result in unacceptable losses – for that center and everyone whose data is stored there. 

All of which means data center owners and managers are under some pressure:  Not only to provide security and ensure the continuous operation of these mission-critical systems but also to produce the most computing power per square foot at the lowest possible cost in energy and resources.  This is forcing a rethink of how they power their systems. 

Until now, most data centers have followed a traditional, relatively safe design:  1) Main-Tie-Main Medium-voltage (MV) switchboard and feeders are laid out in a radial configuration; with 2) blocks of transformers serving redundant 480V switchboards and UPS systems; and 3) a back-up generator for each block.  But this design has a flaw:   A failure anywhere on the Medium Voltage system will result in excessive UPS and  generator runtime. In addition excessive runs on the UPS and generator increase the probability of a system outage. This ultimately squeezes data center margins and reduces reliability.

“This old-school way of doing things leaves data centers open to potentially catastrophic MV switchboard failures,” says Jan Visser, S&C’s Director of Data Center Business Development,  “forcing total reliance on generator power until the damaged switchboard can either be repaired or replaced, and we all know from hard experience it can take weeks to get replacement MV switchboard.”  Even during normal operations, the “old school” design makes concurrent maintenance on switchgear far more complex and time-consuming than it should be.

Increasingly, data center managers want a smarter approach – in fact, they want the same smart grid technologies utilities are using to prevent and shorten distribution system outages:  fiber-optic-based communications, new sensors, wireless technology, and the latest energy management tools.  But when society demands perfection, it’s wise to proceed cautiously.  So S&C Electric Company offers five key steps to secure the cloud and avoid costly disruptions when making the transition from the “old school” to 21st Century smart grid technology.

Step 1

Don’t try to be unique – When you make the switch to smart technology, it’s important to adopt a standardized, yet flexible, open-loop design that can supply 2N reliability to every transformer feeding a load center.  “This field-proven approach not only allows for concurrent maintainability without reliance on back-up generators, it is also the most economical way to eliminate single points of failure on the system,” notes Visser. 

Step 2

Install switching and protection systems with a solid track record – Early adopters of technology can risk failure.  Data center owners and managers cannot.  So choose switching and protection systems that are already doing the job for utilities and other data centers.  For instance, several data centers already use S&C’s Remote Supervisory Vista® Underground Distribution Switchgear, which protects each incoming source with a relay that coordinates with the local utility’s upstream protective devices.  If a fault occurs in the loop, any chance of it affecting the utility’s distribution system is virtually eliminated. Ultimately, this keeps fault isolation and restoration in the data center’s control and does not require a utility response to get the power back on.

Step 3

Incorporate utility-grade smart grid components – A self-healing distribution system is the hallmark of smart grid technology.  For that reason, S&C’s IntelliTeam® SG Automatic Restoration System is integrated into  each installation of S&C’s Vista switchgear.  And because fast, reliable communication is essential to any smart grid, all controls should utilize DNP 3 protocols and peer-to-peer communications over a fiber-optic network.  With all systems sharing data in real time, the controls are able to evaluate the data, isolate faults, and restore power sections in seconds.  If one control somehow loses its communication link, it can still act independently to isolate a fault while the other controls restore the system around the faulted section.  The system can also be set up to perform load management, based on utility feeder restrictions.  “And all of this happens in seconds without human intervention of any kind,” says Visser.

Step 4

Customize the SCADA/HMI (Human Machine Interface) system for each center – The ideal system should provide interactive one-line visuals, as well as alarms, while integrating smoothly with the Building Management System.  To achieve this, the SCADA/HMI system should be designed specifically for your operation.  If properly done, the system will immediately identify exact fault locations and dispatch crews to make the necessary repairs or even to perform routine maintenance. No longer does the crew need to hunt down the fault location – they know where it is.

Step 5

Reduce complexity with a turnkey provider – You’ll sleep easier if you select one provider that offers everything from the switching and protection hardware to the smart grid communications and control equipment needed for a self-healing distribution system.  “S&C can provide the required system design, equipment, project management services, start-up, and perform point-to-point Level 4 commissioning and testing for a one-stop solution,” says Visser.

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