As uninterruptible power source (UPS) technology changes and improves, data centers are opening up to the idea of using lithium ion (li-ion) batteries with greater enthusiasm than ever before, an enthusiasm that may seem surprising to some.
For years, using li-ion batteries to power anything other than a remote-control car would have been considered a mistake. The chemical composition of li-ion batteries often varied drastically by manufacturer, making the batteries less reliable, stable, and safe overall — not exactly good justification for their significantly higher price tag. And with so many customers counting on data centers to deliver promised uptime, only the best, most reliable power sources could be utilized, which up until recently included VRLA (valve-regulated lead-acid) batteries.
But now li-ion batteries are coming to the fore as a real solution for data center UPSs — in large part because manufacturers of consumer electronics, smartphones, and electric vehicles have pushed heavily for li-ion innovation and improvement, while VRLA technology hasn’t changed much in recent decades. The strides made with li-ion are paying off. It’s now predicted that by 2025, li-ion will increase to 35% of the market, up from just 1% in 2016.
As data centers everywhere seek to cut operating costs, become more efficient, and maximize space without sacrificing service or performance, they’re seeing the myriad benefits of the newest generation of li-ion batteries now available, which are proving to be more powerful, reliable, long-living, and cost-efficient, than their old VRLA predecessors.
How batteries are used in data centers
Working in concert with rectifiers and inverters, batteries are the beating heart of a data center’s UPS, which operates as back-up in the event of a main power source failure to keep security systems, computers, and other electronic equipment running as expected. A battery failure could put the data center at risk of a power interruption that can bring down operations and potentially lose millions for the business and its customers.
Because battery systems themselves are made of many interconnected parts — cells, cables, and more — all of which can erode and affect the performance of the battery, data centers have to monitor battery health, store and handle them safely, accurately predict future failure, and replace them before failure occurs.
This critical dependency on monitoring and maintenance has to be factored into the investment when data centers decide what type of battery to use. And although well-maintained VRLA batteries have done the job for nearly as long as the data center industry has existed, all of that may be about to change.
When less is more
Top manufacturers of li-ion batteries are now making them specifically for data centers that were previously using VRLA batteries, helping them make the switch and reap a number of benefits to business — benefits which in turn get passed on to data center customers via enhanced service, competitive pricing, greater reliability, and other factors:
As with the use of any battery, safety has to be a top priority for data centers. Transitioning to li-ion batteries from VRLA brings with it important safety considerations:
New batteries, new expectations
Data center organizations like CoreSite live at the crossroads of new inventions and enhanced technologies, and while this allows them to stay competitive, they also have to be relentlessly rigorous in how they approach any new technology to make sure it doesn’t negatively impact service or performance.
With the latest innovations and improvements around li-ion batteries, and working together with Schneider Electric on ensuring safety is built into every level, CoreSite is excited to continue researching and testing out the technology, hopeful to realize the benefits of constant innovation.
Noah has worked in electrical engineering for over 15 years and brings a wealth of experience to the CoreSite team.Read more from this author