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  • Don t rebuild your data center; modernize it

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Direct replacement designs are available to upgrade existing circuit breakers to current technology. Circuit breakers with older technology are no longer considered sustainable solutions.

Many of today’s data centers are relying on 20-year-old technology, which affects server productivity. Of 1,750 IT professionals surveyed with these older technologies, 33 percent reported weekly network downtime.1

Generally speaking, these aforementioned data centers were built in the 1990s. It goes without saying that these facilities are ill-equipped to keep up with the sheer number of users and/or technological advances over the last few years alone. Faced with such aging infrastructure, IT managers have the following alternatives:

  1. 1. Build a new data center
  2. 2. Colocate
  3. 3. Upgrade the existing infrastructure, starting with reliable power

The benefits of modernizing infrastructure

Long-term reliability of electrical equipment is a fundamental requirement for mission-critical facilities. Though the electricity may still be ‘on’, the power system might not be robust enough to support the technology today’s data centers require.

Switchgear equipment is at the heart of any electrical power distribution system. This equipment comprises passive components (horizontal and vertical bus structures) and active components (power circuit breakers). The main function of the active components is to protect the electrical assets downstream and to disconnect the circuit and protect personnel in case of an arc flash event. Both the passive and active components require regularly-scheduled maintenance to help ensure reliability.

Even the best maintained equipment, however, is subject to two key phenomena:

  1. 1. Equipment ultimately degrades and reaches the end of its useful life, no matter how much maintenance is performed.
  2. 2. Advances in technology – both in material sciences and microprocessor based controls – facilitate the production of more modern circuit breakers with better performance, reduced maintenance requirements, and on-board diagnostics, to name a few features. As a result, circuit breakers with older technology are no longer considered sustainable solutions.

Power circuit breakers manufactured prior to the 1980s employed dash-pot actuated trip units, and their bearings, arc chutes, and contacts required regular maintenance. The introduction of solid state trip units and improved lubrication material produced significant advancement in circuit breaker design. Modern composites, which combine the circuit breaker frame with the insulating material, provided further enhancement.

Following these innovations, Schneider Electric Masterpact™ M-series circuit breakers quickly became the workhorse of industry and appeared in large numbers in data centers, generating stations, industrial facilities, and practically every other installation in the 1990s and early 2000s. Fast forward to today: current technology circuit breakers feature enhancements that were not available 15-20 years ago. A viable solution to consider, therefore, is upgrading the existing equipment with the latest state-of-the-art circuit breakers. Methods exist for adapting the latest technology circuit breakers into a switchgear or switchboard cell that was originally designed for Masterpact M circuit breakers.

A circuit breaker upgrade is accomplished by a process called retrofit, wherein the existing switchgear bus structure is left intact, and only the circuit breaker and the draw-out cradle are replaced. This process keeps the existing footprint of the switchgear such that conduits and cables are not disturbed. Taking on such a project should involve an engineering evaluation of the system.

Consider the cost savings

Upgrading existing equipment with state-of-the-art circuit breakers is a cost-effective approach that does not compromise the reliability of the switchgear. Features incorporated in the new circuit breakers include solid state trip unit, communication capabilities, improved lubrication materials and, modern composites. The switchgear structure and footprint remain intact, minimizing demolition costs and downtime—not to mention the ability to defer CapEx costs associated with new builds. Better yet, the electrical power system has been upgraded to support the data center’s operations for increased reliability, availability, and uptime.

1 Reza Tajali, P.E., Brocade Communications Systems (www.brocade.com).
Mr. Tajali is an Engineering Manager in Schneider Electric Engineering Services (US).
This article originally appeared in the April issue of Data Center Journal. 

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