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How a Facility Assessment Reveals Four Key Points of Failure

Facility Assessments Reveal Key Points of Failure

Should any part of your mission-critical equipment fail, it could result in load loss, fires or worse. A facilities assessment will identify possible points of failure before they happen, helping you accurately assess the urgency of repairs to your upper management.

An assessment also helps you prioritize the various actions needed. It’s a credibly sourced and written report that will help you quantify and substantiate required actions, including which systems may require preventative UPS maintenance, repair or replacement.

Besides helping you qualify the urgency of any potential changes, a facilities assessment also provides assurance that your mission-critical infrastructure is performing properly.

Understanding what’s working and what isn’t is the key to preventing extremely expensive downtime among your vital equipment and operations.

The Four Essential Checks of Facility Assessments

As your facility’s infrastructure ages, several factors can impact its performance. If you aren’t aware of the possible causes of malfunction now, the next opportunity you may have to learn about them is after experiencing a catastrophic failure. Here are the four critical areas:

1. Architectural – Data centers and mission-critical facilities that are constructed within an existing facility require a specific design. Everything in them, including the walls, floor, doors and ceiling, must be hermetically sealed.

Hermetically sealing the area ensures that the various systems within consistently perform to their specifications. It is essential for this room to be self-sustaining – typically it is considered a building within your existing building structure.

A facility experiences dramatic changes in appearance and functionality within its first 10 years of life. The most common issue is that over time, the hermetic seal of that room degrades due to holes in the walls, ceiling, and floor, as well as degrading door seals and cabling changes that aren’t properly fire stopped or sealed.

If you don’t address or account for those changes, your facility could be at risk.

2. Electrical – The systems within a data center typically run on electricity. Lose the power and your mission-critical systems fail. Therefore, we consider the electrical infrastructure the most important discipline.

The electrical components of a facility include the generator, UPS, transformer, bypass, and power distribution panel, as well as the electrical wiring/breakers (although we won’t focus on wiring and breakers in this article).

* Generator – While most generators are designed as a secondary source of power, they must be prepared to properly function when needed.

There are three main components to a generator system: the generator itself, its motor and an ATS (Automatic Transfer Switch).

Just like your car, a generator’s engine depends on a battery, which requires maintenance to ensure it performs well. The most common causes of a generator system failure are dead battery and poor or no maintenance.

Other vulnerable areas include the ATS, usually the mechanical switch, and the engines.

You should schedule preventative maintenance (PM) on the generator at least twice a year, with special attention given to those areas that are most likely to fail.

The generator should be exercised at least four times per year, with a full system exercise (including the ATS for a full transfer) at least once a year, although some businesses are required to perform testing more frequently. Load banking the generator is also critical to ensure it functions properly.

An assessment of the generator will ensure the generator is properly sized, configured, and maintained to support the UPS, A/C and mission-critical infrastructure.

* Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) – The four main parts of the UPS system are the rectifier, batteries, inverter and bypass (internal and external). A facility assessment can ensure each part components compatibility and integrity.

The UPS relies on batteries for power should the utility power fail or if your facility experiences various power anomalies. If you have a string of batteries (several batteries in series are required for your DC buss voltage), it only takes one battery in that string to fail (or open) for your UPS to drop the load.

While assessing a UPS system, a trained professional must examine the electrical systems it’s supporting, the UPS topology, internal redundancy, kVA sizing, age of UPS/batteries and the condition of the fans and capacitors. Manufacturers recommend that preventative maintenance be performed a minimum of two times per year on the UPS and all of the batteries.

* Bypass/Transformer/Power Distribution Panel – We recommend installing external maintenance bypass (rotary or circuit breakers) to give you an external means to completely bypass the UPS system without interruption to the load.

With any type of electrical distribution system, there are several contact points. Loose connections will emit a heat signature, which thermal testing can detect. A site survey will also check breakers, connection points, transformers and power distribution panels.

 3. Mechanical – Specialized air conditioning (A/C) is specifically designed to support an equipment-populated space, as opposed to human comfort. These units have the capacity to add or remove moisture from that room as needed.

This system is the most labor intensive and the most mechanical system in the room. We recommend that you have redundancy should you experience problems with your A/C system.

There are several different ways to cool a room with an A/C unit. A facilities assessment considers your existing cooling mechanism and determines if you have the proper design, redundancy and capacity to support your mission–critical infrastructure. It will also identify hot spots or air flow problems and help you address them.

4. Fire Suppression – Most of the chemical fire suppressants require a hermetically sealed room to extinguish a fire. If the room isn’t sealed correctly, they won’t work correctly, running the risk of being unable to fully extinguish a fire. This is especially important if a fire occurs when the facility isn’t occupied.

Wet pipe or pre-action dry pipe systems don’t require a sealed environment. Each of these systems is tied into the EPO (Emergency Power Off) system and upon activation, they will power down the entire mission-critical facility. An assessment will examine the conditions of these systems and the health of the infrastructure.

While these are the (4) main components, there are also other significant items that may be included in a facilities assessment, including physical and cyber security. We’ll cover these items in a future post.

In addition to the report, depending on the requirements of the facility assessment, a proper facilities assessment should also provide a simple one-line drawing of the electrical infrastructure, a room layout diagram, and/or address any additional requirements that you may have.

Keeping your mission-critical equipment and your load online takes a proactive effort rather than a reactive response. A facilities assessment is the best way to ensure the soundness your facility’s infrastructure, prevent catastrophic failure and avoid costly downtime.