Building energy management systems (BEMS) for data centres
This article was written by Sam Fitzgerald, Key Account Manager at Trend Control Systems. It was first published in March 2016 as ‘A BEMS is the key to unlocking a more sustainable and resilient data centre’ by BSRIA.
For more information, see Building energy management systems (BEMS).
In order to minimise the potential for downtime, data centres must be resilient and compliant with all relevant standards and operating procedures, while at the same time minimising overall energy consumption. Building energy management systems (BEMS) have the proven ability to maintain the high levels of uptime and energy efficiency demanded by users by proactively monitoring, analysing, understanding and improving a data centre’s building services infrastructure.
 Under control
A BEMS monitors, manages and controls building services and plant, ensuring it operates at maximum levels of efficiency and reliability. It does this by maintaining the optimum balance between conditions, energy use and operating requirements.
Controlling an entire estate’s building services from a centrally-managed location enhances the ability to interact with, and improve the quality of, the data centre infrastructure. Intelligently understanding and responding to patterns of usage means that, for example, cooling can be fully optimised and lighting turned off in unoccupied areas.
Being aware of the way a data centre works makes it possible to determine which best practices to implement to protect IT assets, while minimising costs and the potential for downtime.
 Energy levels
It is estimated that data centres account for around three per cent of the world’s total energy consumption and with growing use of the cloud and the rise of the internet of things, that figure is only going to go up. Furthermore, according to the Digital Power Group, the sector uses 50% more energy than global aviation and is now considered one of the major sources of global CO2 emissions.
Efficient use of energy is clearly no longer just an option and there is a growing raft of legislation and regulation that is specifically designed to ensure that energy consumption and carbon emissions are measured accurately, and that any applicable data is available for analysis.
Given that up to 84% of a data centre’s energy consuming devices can be directly under its control, a BEMS is without doubt the most effective way to gain a true understanding of where savings can be made, monitored and sustained. A properly specified, installed and maintained BEMS will ensure that building services operate in strict accordance with demand, which will also help to deliver the lowest power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating.
Far from being ‘fit and forget’, a BEMS can evolve with the building over a period of time. It must be regularly maintained and, where necessary, adjusted to ensure that it provides the best possible quality of service.
 The bigger picture
In addition, a properly configured BEMS will be scalable, future proof and full backwards compatible. A system that allows easy upgrading and reconfiguration is always preferable – not all systems are the same and the costs of installation can vary depending on the protocol used.
Trend is committed to ensuring the backwards compatibility of its technology. For example, its new IQ®4 controllers are able to communicate with the very first device that it manufactured way back in 1982. The IQ®4 modules are also interchangeable for additional future proofing, scalability and system longevity – all of which can protect the financial investment in a BEMS.
 Always on
According to research carried out by Emerson Network Power and the Ponemon Institute, the cost of data centre downtime is just over $7,900 per minute. Total data centre outages in 2013 averaged a recovery time of 119 minutes, equating to about $901,500 in total cost.
As well as being incredibly inconvenient, it is the damage to mission critical data, impact on organisational productivity, harm to equipment, legal and regulatory repercussions and lost confidence and trust among key stakeholders that can prove difficult to recover from. A data centre should look to build resilience into its operation via a BEMS, minimising any risks associated with situations such as plant failure or environmental conditions falling outside acceptable parameters.
Alarms can be programmed into a BEMS, so that in the event of equipment malfunction the problem can be identified and rectified as quickly as possible. For instance, on an air-handling unit, if a flow sensor highlights that airflow is decreasing it is likely to mean that a filter is blocked.
Addressing problems like this early on will ensure temperature conditions in a data centre remain within those agreed in a service level agreement (SLA), minimising the possibility of penalties. A BEMS can also minimise the amount of time required to carry out such tasks by either automating them or undertaking comprehensive data acquisition.
 Rules and regulations
A BEMS provides overall visibility of plant energy use and allows personnel to see in real time what’s happening within a facility, helping make sure that equipment stays within a manufacturer’s specified temperature and/or humidity range. In addition, details of data centre conditions can be logged on a 24/7 basis to provide a full audit trail.
A growing number of data centre operators are also choosing to put an energy management system (EnMS) in place to achieve compliance with ISO 50001 or the standards used to measure data centre efficiency developed by The Green Grid. Having a BEMS in place will help demonstrate a desire to continually improve a data centre’s energy efficiency.
The requirement for this technology in data centres is only set to increase.
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