The Importance of Panelboards in Data Centers

Power is an essential part of data center operation with the electricity usage costs regarding such facilities having doubled in the period from 2000 to 2006; contemporarily there are no signs of this trend slowing. Power is not only expensive for data centers; it can also be extremely problematic.

Equipment housed in data installations such as computers, servers and storage devices are extremely sensitive to unexpected changes in electrical voltage, and therefore require a continual, uninterrupted flow of electricity, and protection from extreme electrical events such as surges. This is generally ensured via the utilization of switchboards and panelboards.

switchboards are basically devices comprised of fuses, electrical relays and circuit breakers. These installations are utilized to distribute energy and protect operational equipment and personnel from hazardous changes in voltage, and exposure to dangerous electrical currents, respectively. The electrical energy from switchboards located in data centers is usually distributed to panelboards, which in turn provide energy to, and safeguard, more specific areas within a facility.

The Role of Panelboards in Data Centers

Panelboards are very similar in design to switchboards with many experts stating that the main difference between the two is the fact that switchboards are usually standing units, whilst they are fixed to the wall. Many people however, know these boards only as the switch they need to flick in their homes when the electricity goes out.

Traditionally the boards in data centers had to be categorized according to their function: power distribution, lighting and appliance or mixed applications. The number of fuses and branch circuits (connections that leave the panel to power electrical devices) on these panels were also limited to 42. As data centers have grown however, and powerboard technology has advanced, boards with 84 branch circuits are now allowed. This provides data center technicians with the much sought after ability to save space within their installations.

Another advantage afforded to data centers via the utilization of the aforementioned technology is the fact that faults in the electrical system can be dealt with ‘down stream’. Panelboards consequently allow for ‘selectively tripping’ of branch breakers meaning that only the affected branch circuit goes offline, opposed to a whole panelboard, or the whole system. This allows for the minimal amount of interruption possible facility-wise, and is preferable to shutting down the entire switchboard for maintenance or repairs.

One issue that technicians are currently reporting in data centers regarding panelboards however, is the fact that since the early 2000′s, due to the ever increasing complexity of data center power systems, selective tripping is not functioning as well as it did in the past. Technicians are finding that in many cases main breakers are tripping in addition to, or instead of branch breakers. This is causing centers to run less efficiently.

Even though there are some issues reported regarding data center systems, switchboards and powerboards are nevertheless essential components of these electrical systems. As data centers continue to become larger and more prevalent, and the demand for higher efficiency and services grown, the need for new, better technologies can only increase.