Power Overload Protection: Breakers for Data Centers

Data Center Cost Increase

Power consumption and costs have both been slowly increasing in recent years. As high density computing, virtualization, server consolidations, and build-outs continue to remain popular ways to save data center space while increasing data space, power consumption totals will continue to rise. The typical power required for a server rack has increased from two kilowatts to 10 kilowatts over the last 10 years. The breakers for data centers in use today play an important role in keeping the flow of power to the IT equipment functioning safely.

Breakers for Data Centers

Today, electrical power is now, on average, 30 percent of data center operating costs and 20 percent of the overall total cost of ownership for a business. IT and data center managers are now using power distribution units (PDUs) more and more to help deliver the power necessary to the different IT equipment within the data center. Some PDUs are capable of handling up to 208 voltage and 30 amps in order to accommodate the increased IT power demands. Conversely, there are new certification requirements for PDUs and breakers for data centers due to safety concerns over the considerable amount of power that now needs to be delivered to IT equipment racks.

The Underwriters Laboratories (UL)

The Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has issued the standard, UL 60950-1, which applies to the safety of information technology equipment, also known as ITE. This new standard requires the use of branch circuit overcurrent protection for IT equipment and its PDU configuration that are great than 20 amps. IT equipment PDUs rated for greater than 20 amps, and certified after April of 2003, must have built-in UL 489 circuit breakers or fuses in order to have an adequate-level of branch circuit protection. This is to help protect not just the expensive equipment housed within a data center, but to protect those who work in the data center and for the company where that equipment is in use.

The standard UL 60950-1 also permits products rated at 15 amps and 20 amps to not require breakers for data centers, since the typical 15 or 20 amp Circuit Breakers housed within the building are considered satisfactory to protect the PDU currently in place. It is also worth mentioning, however, that any additional protection for the PDU is worth considering for protection of the equipment and that data center as a whole.

Additionally, there is also a “grandfather” clause to PDUs that can handle more than 20 amps, but were certified prior to 2003. While some of these PDUs are still in use, and even still being sold, the decision to use that type of equipment within a data center should not be taken lightly. The decision to use that equipment without additional power protection should be discussed between a data center management and a power consultant. It is always important to remember not only should data center equipment run efficiently, but it should also run safely.