Data Centers aren’t anything special.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008 at 07:32PM
Toby Considine in Data Center, Microgrids and Distributed Systems, Re-thinking things

Normal business now need to defend themselves from the power systems just as data centers do.

Long time readers know that I consider that power companies and utilities commissions over-estimate power reliability by focusing on the presence of power and not on the quality of power. I often note that my home, halfway between a major research university and a nuclear plant suffers multiple outages a month, outages long enough to require that I reset all the devices in the house, whether microwave, DVD player, or alarm clock. This probably has something to do with the frequency with which I must replace home electronics. Yet homes are “adequately supplied” with power.

On the other side is the data center. Data centers have long acknowledged that utility power is neither good enough nor reliable enough for their purposes. Data centers use multiple strategies for on-site energy storage, on-site energy generation, and on-site energy conditioning to protect themselves from the product supplied over the power grid.

Non high-tech businesses are considered as something more similar to the home than to the data center. They were not worth protecting in the way data centers are protected.

Two weeks ago, some friends open up a bakery and sweet shop in Chapel Hill. Sugarland is an all-natural bakery and gelato shop. Its business equipment is kitchen equipment and retail refrigeration. It seemed the worst problem they were going to have was keeping up with the swarms of students that found them as soon as they opened, before their staff was all trained. Doc and Katrina were exhausted, but pleased. The snacks were delicious. Rush hour warm cookie time was a success.

Last Sunday a wind storm came through the southeast. In town power would flicker, then flicker again. One would think that this business would be mostly unaffected, not much different from the businesses the grid was designed for in the 1950’s.

Modern ovens, however, have computer systems the run them, computers that reset with each flicker. Modern gelato machines have processors that stop when the power dims a little. The cash register is, of course, a high touch system for inventory control and minimal staff training, until its database corrupts.

I went by Sugarland on Sunday as Katrina threw out 250 cupcakes that deflated when the oven re-set. She did not dare start more cakes for the morning until she knew the power would be reliable. Doc had given up on trying getting fresh gelato out to the waiting lines. Neither knew what to prep that night to prepare for the early morning baking on Monday.

The absolute shut-down and loss of business for flickering power in a modern retail bakery is as big a hit as in any data center. Bakers, too, need to defend themselves from what comes over the power line with

Monday’s short stock is now over. The power has been adequate this week. The shelves are stocked again. But I will no longer consider data centers as having special needs; merely needs that are better recognized.

I think I will head downtown now – I hear the grapefruit gelato is superb.

Article originally appeared on New Daedalus (http://www.newdaedalus.com/).
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