Sudlows technical director Andy Hirst offers Louise Frampton his views on the important factors that
contribute to a successful critical infrastructure project and provides an insight into the pioneering technologies and key influences that will have an impact on the mission critical power sector.
Sudlows – a specialist in the design, build and maintenance of energy efficient and sustainable critical infrastructure environments – has a long history of sourcing and installing resilient mission critical systems to provide effective defences against power interruptions. While designing installations for clients – ranging from the Co-operative Salford Data Centre, to Stockport Council – the vendor-neutral organisation has gained insights into some of the technological innovations taking place in the market and trends in critical infrastructure.
Andy Hirst, Sudlows’ technical director, believes that this is an exciting time of rapid technological innovation but argues that projects demand more than the ability to “buy a box and install it”; designers must invest heavily in R&D to develop systems that ensure the highest levels of efficiency that are demanded by the UK market, as well as perform their own due diligence to investigate the performance and quality of manufacturers’ equipment – whether it’s the UPS systems they specify or the cooling technology that is installed.
“It is no longer enough to specify equipment from a company because they are a ‘reputable’ brand. You need to perform your own due diligence on equipment to ensure it meets the client’s demands,” Hirst says.
He adds that clients with mission critical power requirements should be prepared to challenge designers as to why they have selected specific manufacturers’ equipment and the designer should be able to present their evidence based on their own investigations.
“We are vendor neutral so we will look at what levels of service the manufacturer can offer and how they manufacture their products – often visiting the manufacturing facilities, to ensure we are happy with what we see. We will test the quality of the product but also investigate whether the service engineers that work on the equipment are certified to the right standard. Whatever the size of the brand, designers should perform their own checks and tests before anything is installed.
“Clients often assume that this is offered routinely and do not realise that not everyone has the capability to offer this expertise when they recommend and install equipment,” he says.
As the chairperson for the ECA’s technical committee for Information Communication & Controls Technologies (ICTT), Hirst reports that he is working with a project aimed at developing more comprehensive UK standards for mission critical applications in data centres.
There are two standards based around ensuring the resilience of data centres – the Uptime Institute and the TIA942 standards. At present, the US standards dominate. However, Hirst explains that sessions to achieve accreditation with the Uptime Institute are very limited and mainly held overseas, making them difficult to access.
“You must be an incorporated or chartered engineer to be accepted on to the course, so the course itself is stringent in terms of who can qualify for entry. Many of the big consultancies will have one or two certified designers, accredited to the Uptime Institute, while Sudlows has five.
“However, there are only 50-60 certified designers in the UK that currently meet the Uptime Institute Standards.
“The UK is well respected for its engineering yet we are currently ‘piggy backing’ on US standards because the British equivalent are not as in-depth,” he says.
Fast pace of innovation
Hirst goes on to share his views on what he found exciting about the mission critical infrastructure environment, highlighting the fact that technology is advancing at a rapid pace:
“We invite manufacturers of electrical systems, UPS, generators and cooling to present on the latest technology, so that we stay abreast of the latest developments and trends, as there is so much innovation taking place in this area,” says Hirst.
“In terms of UPS systems, the modular approach is on the increase – until three years ago there was only one recognised solution, now there are several available.
“With technology advancing so quickly in the data centre arena, it is vital not to stand still – you cannot assume that you can use the same technology that was installed on the previous two projects; you could find you are two generations behind on the UPS, for example.”
Hirst believes there are some interesting innovations in UPS technology that are gaining traction. For example, Sudlows has supplied diesel rotary UPS (DRUPS), with flywheel technology, to some of its projects.
“I’m an advocate of the technology; it is highly efficient and it has its place in the market, although it must be the right project,” he says.
Other recent developments that are generating interest include Air DRUPS technology. This has now been on the market for a couple of years and is described as “an environmentally friendly system” that combines highly efficiency UPS technology with a compressed air energy storage system to provide back-up power.
The technology uses a series of scroll generators, driven by the release of the compressed air, to provide an emergency supply of electricity for the time required to support the load until a standby diesel generator kicks in.
“We are currently looking at this technology – it is on the cusp of breaking through and there is a lot of R&D around this area,” says Hirst.
There has also been an increase in indirect fresh air cooling solutions on the market in the past year, he points out – expanding from just one manufacturer solution to four.
“We have been involved with a project using this approach and it is highly efficient. We performed our own assessment on the various solutions available, measuring efficiency and pushing the technologies to the limits to evaluate the optimum solution. The efficiencies are improving at an incredible pace,” he says.
Outside the areas of power and cooling, Hirst reports that there are interesting developments in the field of fire suppression, with the development of systems that operate by reducing oxygen in a room, as well as data centre infrastructure management tools, which allow administrators to collate, store and analyse data related to power and cooling in real time.
However, he acknowledges that, to capitalise on the benefits of these new advances, there is a need to educate finance directors to understand that the capital investment in new technology will save money in the long-run.
He points out that if you improve the infrastructure, you will improve the efficiency: “You can go into a facility that is less than two years old and you can return the investment by swapping out some of the equipment, whether it is the UPS or cooling systems. The technology has moved so fast that updating equipment that is still relatively new, at two years old, can show a return on investment in just one year.
“In the past few years, we have seen greater importance being placed on energy efficiency, when tendering, but the urgency is still not quite there. There is still a general lack of awareness of how power hungry data centres are – they have overtaken airlines in terms of carbon footprint and a small comms room can consume as much energy as a four-storey office block. This is not widely understood.”
So what is the key to delivering a successful project? Hirst believes that collaboration and vendor neutrality are crucial factors for designers:
“Every time we complete a project, we develop a new design – incorporating a unique specification of controls, UPS, cooling and BMS. You cannot achieve this by working with one manufacturer – we believe it is important to be vendor neutral to be able to meet each clients’ individual demands across a diverse range of sectors.
“We may specify one manufacturer because the footprint is a key factor on the project, while for another resilience, redundancy or efficiency may be the deciding factors. It about understanding the client’s drivers – whether it is our installation at AO World plc, the UK’s largest online retailer of household appliances, or our recent installation at Stockport Council.
“It is important to have the client involved in the project at the start, working closely to identify their objectives. We encourage clients to engage with workshops, with manufacturers, so they can understand why the recommendation has been made to use technology, such as DRUPS for example. The best projects are ones where we work as a team,” he says..
Looking to the future, Hirst believes there will be an increased demand for greater consolidation. One university had 14 comms rooms, for example, which Sudlows successfully consolidated into one – thereby delivering significant efficiency savings. Hirst points out that there is also potential for other public sector organisations to follow suit – such as healthcare Trusts. Through consolidation, hospitals could reduce the amount of space they are using, while achieving energy savings and reducing the amount of equipment required, such as UPS systems.
“As newer technologies are coming to the fore, which are more efficient, people will begin to realise they can achieve a quick return on investment by upgrading UPS and cooling systems.
“Following Brexit, we are also seeing inquiries arising from US investment and we are likely to see some large facilities being developed in the UK in the next few years,” Hirst concludes.