Crisis highlights fuel concerns for backup generators

Backup diesel stocks should be turned over once a year to ensure quality, and on-site staff should work with fuel suppliers to make sure they understand the facility’s needs.

In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, power outages and flooding forced data center operators in New York and New Jersey to put their backup plans to the test. As data centers turned to generators to provide power, managers were faced with an issue most IT staff rarely consider: Determining the availability and quality of diesel fuel needed to keep the generators running.

In an industry where constant uptime is essential for business continuity, data center facility operators must be able to ensure backup power in the case of an outage. This function is usually handled by diesel generators, which can provide days or weeks of uptime in a power outage - provided the facility has the necessary fuel reserves.

Data Center Knowledge writer Jason Verge pointed out that there can be complications in maintaining reserves in an outage due to both supply issues and potential contamination, as instances following Sandy showed. While data centers are often critical for communications functions and generally have preferred contracts with fuel providers, other facilities such as hospitals and water treatment plants receive a higher priority for fuel when supplies are limited. In Sandy’s aftermath, high demand quickly strained the immediate supply of available diesel for backup generation, complicating recovery.

Maintenance and fuel quality are essential
According to a 2009 report from Australia’s Energy Infrastructure Assurance Advisory Group, generator maintenance and testing is also a key disaster preparedness consideration. A study cited in the report found that, in a 2003 North American blackout, more than 20 percent of backup generation systems either did not start or ran for only a few minutes before dying as a result of insufficient testing.

The report recommended asking facility managers questions to ensure backup generators are protected from overheating and under maintenance contracts. Additionally, researchers recommended monthly tests of generators and analysis of whether the generators can power all systems for an extended period of time. When analyzing a facility, CEOs and risk managers may also want to find out how many people are trained to operate the generator.

Another factor to consider is fuel quality. The advisory group report noted that backup diesel stocks should be turned over once a year to ensure quality, and on-site staff should work with fuel suppliers to make sure they understand the facility’s needs.

Backup power is an important part of data center infrastructure. When choosing a wholesale data center facility, IT executives should consider the maintenance policies and contingency plans in place for the facility’s backup generator.

Brought to you by NewAge Data Center Solutions, leaders in wholesale, multi-tenant data center facilities.

posted on November 9th 2012