It is reported that the UK government has been in talks with data center operators to keep their infrastructure running during possible power outages this winter amid growing fears there could be blackouts as gas supplies run low.
According to Bloomberg, discussions centered on ensuring a supply of diesel fuel for backup generators should the National Grid be forced to shut down power. It cited the usual anonymous sources “who are familiar with the matter” who said the talks also addressed the question of whether data centers should be considered critical national infrastructure.
A large proportion of Britain’s electricity is generated from gas – 39.8 per cent in 2021, according to figures [PDF] from the Department of Corporate, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). The Russian war in Ukraine has threatened gas supplies across Europe, and while the UK doesn’t get much gas from Russia, the country often imports electricity from the region when needed.
The National Grid arm that runs the UK’s electricity supply, Electricity System Operator (ESO), issued a report [PDF] Earlier this month, which outlined possible scenarios. It is expected that there will be enough margin in winter to ensure sufficient power.
However, in a worst-case scenario, it may be necessary to initiate planned load-shedding schemes, where some customers could be without power for predefined periods during a day, “generally assumed for 3-hour blocks”.
Data center operators have backup generators that can provide power for such events, but there’s always a chance it can be longer than three hours, raising the question of whether the data center has enough fuel to keep the generator running until mains power is available is restored.
This was announced by Tiny Haynes, senior director analyst at Gartner the reg that his company published a research note in 2013 in which Ofgem warned that power would be 99.8 per cent available, so there was a possibility of blackouts then and the risk is much higher today.
“There is a potential problem with the power supply or gas supply to power plants, which will then not only affect data center providers, but will also affect the power in mobile networks,” Haynes said.
He added that while data center operators will have UPS and diesel generators on site, they will need to do extensive testing to make sure everything works in the event of a power outage.
“Best practice is to test generators once a week, but that’s just a generator test. They often don’t do a full load test, a failover test of all systems,” he said.
“Operators have to test all substations, whether all UPS systems are working, whether all generators are running, whether they have sufficient diesel supply,” Haynes added.
earlier this year, The registry reported how Interxion suffered a power outage at its Shoreditch data center but the electronic switchgear that was supposed to switch power to an on-site generator failed.
Haynes also warned that with data center clusters in some places, particularly some areas around London, it could be difficult to get enough diesel fuel if power outages continue for a long time, which is hopefully an issue the Government will address after their meetings wants to address with operators.
“My concern would be if you want to backsupply, let’s say Docklands where you have a large cluster of data centers. I mean you have Sovereign House, you have Global Switch, you have Telehouse, you’re going to have a lot of demand for fuel to be shipped to that area. Is the capacity sufficient?”
According to Haynes, operators could suffer reputational damage and the cost of violating service level agreements (SLAs) if they are unable to keep operations running.
“Usually these are service credits for outages, but if you’re running a Tier 3 data center you need to provide at least 99.982 percent uptime, and that’s minutes per month. So if you’re down for a few hours, it gets very expensive very quickly,” he said.
We asked several data center operators in the UK if they had taken any extra steps to ensure availability this winter, but most were oddly unwilling to speak to us on the subject.
One company that has responded is Amazon Web Services, which informed us that “AWS continuously monitors and manages our data center assets around the world. Each of our facilities have contingency plans in place and we ensure each of our facilities conduct continuous readiness reviews. For example, we monitor and test the proper configuration of our electrical distribution systems, the health of our generator sets, the amount of fuel available and the readiness for supplemental fuel supplies.
AWS insisted, “This issue does not currently pose a risk to AWS services. We are working closely with utilities in each region to identify and review utility supply risks and any AWS response to a supply risk or request to coordinate should the need arise.” ®
https://www.theregister.com/2022/10/18/uk_government_in_talks_with/ UK government in talks with data centers over power outages • The Register