The power’s back on! Great, right? Not if it’s coming in hot and way above the limits your data center can handle.

Key Takeaways:

  • A power surge can be forceful enough to damage and destroy data servers
  • Damaged servers mean lost data, broken equipment, and costly downtime
  • The National Electrical Code requires surge protection for many businesses
  • The right generator, UPS, and PDU can supply powerful surge protection

The cost of critical infrastructure downtime can be measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars per minute and maybe even millions of dollars, depending on the size of the business. Our earlier blog provided five tips to stay ahead of a power outage, which is one of the leading causes of data centers losing energy, money, and productivity.

Data center managers should read our guide to preparing for another type of event that could take their operations offline. This time, it’s when the power comes back on – with a vengeance! Welcome to the wild world of power surges, where the next one to hit your data center could leave your motherboards crying “Uncle.”

What causes a power surge?

A 2017 article in IAEI Magazine highlighted a report by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI). The data showed that serious voltage surges occurred monthly across many sectors and affected 80% of IT centers. A data center power surge can occur in any of these scenarios:

  • After your local provider gets the grid back on following an outage
  • Lightning strikes
  • A sharp increase in power demand on the local grid
  • High-energy appliances being switched off and on
  • A hurricane affecting power lines – this is when having a commercial generator can help you avoid downtime, financial loss, and angry customers

The surge may come quickly, or it could take hours to arrive. When it does hit, it can pour so much juice into a site so suddenly that circuit boards are damaged or destroyed. There goes all that essential operational and customer data, not to mention some very expensive hardware.

Power surges don’t have to directly hit servers to roast them, either. Sometimes, it’s the data center’s HVAC that gets damaged. This will cause temperatures to rise and have detrimental effects on servers. It’s therefore important to check your HVAC (and any portable cooling units) after every power outage to make sure they’re working.

A surge could hit a data center anywhere in the world at any time. However, the likelihood of suffering a surge can increase with your geographic location. Here in Florida, for example, most years we’re the lightning capital of the world. This means our data centers are much more likely to feel the wrath of Zeus. Make sure you factor your zip code into how seriously you take power surges.

Your chances of escaping a surge unscathed also increase if your data center is already running cool. We recommend reading our guide to designing your center’s layout for optimal thermal flow to ensure temperatures stay as perfect as possible.

How to prepare for a power surge scenario

The first step is understanding that this isn’t a choice. You need to do it to keep your data center in line with national requirements. The National Electrical Code (NEC) has a rule on this that’s short and sweet (654.18, to be precise). It requires that surge protection be provided by any company that relies on the continuous operation of data systems to keep their business running.

Surge protection devices (SPDs) therefore must be a key element in every data center’s design, whether you’re building from scratch or upgrading an existing site. SPDs are ranked Types 1 to 3, which can be installed at the distribution board, the sub-distribution board, or close to the load that’s being protected, respectively. Data center managers should be aware of the various surge protection devices that are available (or just call electrical professionals who already are).

An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), for example, can reduce the risk of power surge damage. We previously explained how the various types of UPS can help essential businesses, such as by quickly detecting if there’s too much power coming in and switching to safer backup sources. Of the various models, data centers will be best served by using a double-conversion UPS.

These are specifically intended to protect servers and IT hardware by converting incoming AC into DC and then back into ongoing AC power. These models are always in DC mode when not in use, making them super-fast at transferring current. Don’t worry if you’re not too sure about data center energy terms. We’ve got a blog for that, too.

Some important considerations with power surge protection

Data centers must remember that their UPS helps with handling power surges but won’t supply power indefinitely, only long enough to give staff a comfortable amount of time to shut everything down safely. Well-prepared data centers team their UPS with a power distribution unit (PDU). These don’t supply any power at all; they receive it from the UPS and distribute it safely to the right locations.

Not all data centers are ultramodern and ready to handle a power surge. Many centers are legacy configurations and as such, altering them to meet previous or current surge standards is delicate work. It could also be dangerous without the right equipment, experience, and knowledge of code requirements.

If that describes your data center, it’s essential to call in the power professionals to assess your layout and make the best recommendations for the site. Even if you’re running the world’s most up-to-date data center, it’s always best practice to contact electrical professionals before making any alterations to your current layout or systems.

Speak to the electrical pros about power surges

Universal Electrical Services have decades of experience in helping customers throughout Florida create the safest, most efficient electrical environments in both residential and commercial sites across seventeen different industries. We’re also among the area’s leading local experts in renovating, relocating, and building data centers. Drop us a line on our contact page to ask any power surge questions or to get a free service quote!