Imagine. Everything seems to be working fine until ‘click’ – no more power from your electricity provider.

With some data centers requiring megawatts of power delivered at levels as high as 20 kilovolts, backup power has to be solid and sufficient to keep everything going till normal power is restored. The data center generator is the way most enterprises and service providers go. However, there’s more to a decent generator solution than meets the eye.


Power Output

Data center generator output must meet the total requirements for power in the data center.

Servers and networking equipment are obvious, but lighting (inside and outside for security), heating, cooling, fire detection, and other emergency systems must also work.

On the other hand, with backup generator solutions potentially running into tens of thousands of dollars, you don’t want to go overboard on unused capacity either.


Sometimes, one highly reliable unit is all that is required or that can be installed.

However, one backup generator alone is a single point of failure. Parallel generator installations provide redundancy.

The generator configuration must also mesh with other parts of an overall uninterruptible power supply solution, like battery backup. This brings us to our next point…

Start-Up Time

Large power generators for data centers often don’t generate electricity immediately. There is a start-up time, shorter or longer depending on the type used, even if it is possible to maintain some generators in a pre-heated state for rapid start-up.

While the generator is starting up, the battery backup must take over, supplying the required power so there is no undue break in service.

Less battery backup means shorter start-up times and vice versa.

Monitoring and Management

You may not be able to have physical access to your generator in an emergency situation.

A data center generator, therefore, also needs to allow remote monitoring and management via its own network connection.

It should also automatically and reliably start up if the main power fails. At least one high-profile outage has been due to the failure of generators to kick in when needed.

Longer Term Operation

How long will you need to run your generator?

In extreme cases like recent hurricanes, neighborhoods have been without power and fuel for days.

In that case, not only will you need big enough fuel reserves, but you will also need a generator that allows for in-operation maintenance as required for a truly uninterruptible power supply.

Environmental Concerns

Will your generator run on diesel or gas, or could you use another solution altogether?

EPA restrictions may apply to essentially toxic fumes from diesel generators.

Fuel cell backup is cleaner. Solar panels are another solution that can potentially move even large data center power backup over to renewable, non-polluting systems.

Test, Test, and Test Again

If you don’t test your data center power backup occasionally, you’ll never know if it will work.

Bigger data centers may need weekly generator testing. The generator must work, and its fuel must always be in good condition. Diesel fuel degradation, when kept too long, is a potential problem here.

Are data centers fated to use diesel generators for the foreseeable future, or is renewable energy already a viable option? Give us your point of view in the Comments section below.

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