In 2017, with the expansion of the Internet of Things (IoT), increasing connectivity and growing demands for 24/7 availability, data is rapidly becoming the lifeblood of and a key competitive differentiator for businesses. As a result, the data center—which collects, stores, processes and distributes this resource—is transitioning from cost center to business driver and becoming ever-more mission critical. Without a functioning data center, a business stands to lose in multiple ways: in productivity, competitiveness, revenue, and reputation.
One of the most important foundational requirements for a data center is constant access to high-quality, reliable power. To keep data centers up and running, even during a utility outage, facilities personnel employ generators, uninterruptable power supplies (UPSs), and other technologies to ensure constant availability. In the case of the UPS, it is as important to consider the battery’s capabilities as it is the overall equipment capabilities—e.g., remote monitoring, alerts, and notifications. UPS batteries, while often overlooked, are crucial to asset performance.
Making the Switch
While there are many battery technologies for IT and data center managers to consider, valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries have long been the go-to option. Historically, these batteries have been comparatively less expensive to purchase and use, have relatively simple maintenance requirements, and—a bonus for the sustainability-minded—are easily recyclable.
However, while data center technology has evolved over the years, VRLA batteries have not, driving IT and data center managers to evaluate other options that can keep up with their growing needs. As a result, previously cost-prohibitive Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery technology is now becoming more mainstream, offering benefits including substantially lowered total cost of ownership (TCO); much smaller physical footprint and weight; and improved predictability and manageability.
Why Choose Lithium-ion?
While Li-ion batteries have been used for more than 20 years in various commercial applications, they have not often been used for data center UPSs because of cost. Until quite recently, Li-ion batteries were five to 10 times more expensive than lead-acid. Today, the cost premium has come down to 1.5 to two times more.
Safety concerns have been another factor limiting the use of Li-ion in the data center. However, much progress has been made over the years to make these batteries safer and more like other common battery types used for this application.
With this evolution of technology in mind, here are several factors that make Li-ion batteries a reasonable alternative for businesses:
Their compact design frees up space. Li-ion batteries have a significantly reduced footprint and weight that allows for a more effective use of space in a data center. Taking just one-third of the space and weight of a comparable VRLA-based battery that delivers the same power, Li-ion batteries enable customers to increase the footprint available for IT systems while also reducing cooling requirements. This saves capital and operating costs.
They last longer, reducing replacement costs. With a lifespan of 10 to 15 years, Li-ion batteries last more than twice as long as VRLAs, which have a typical lifecycle of between four and six years. Li-ion batteries tolerate occasional spikes in temperature, allowing them to retain much longer battery life than VRLA. With UPSs and servers also designed to tolerate higher operating temperatures, significant savings are possible when batteries are placed in the same environment. A longer shelf life greatly reduces the cost and maintenance burdens of performing battery replacements.
They are simple to manage. UPS can be housed in a smaller room with less equipment for IT and facilities staff to manage and maintain. Additionally, Li-ion batteries come with sophisticated Battery Management Systems (BMSs), which consist of microprocessors, sensors, switches, and other circuits. The BMSs can relay how the battery is performing and extend its life by collecting and reporting data that can help managers accurately understand the battery system’s health and status. In addition, the BMS can manage the battery system through cell balancing and switching control.
They have a scalable cost and footprint. When devices only need seconds rather than minutes to kick start power, Li-Ion is smaller and more cost effective, especially with respect to lifetime cost. Traditional UPS battery options have high relative costs and footprints to provide short power duration requirements, like those in generator-backed applications.
Although the outright capital expense for Li-ion batteries may seem high, it’s important to remember that these costs can and will likely be offset by the operating-expense benefits of using Li-ion versus VRLA batteries. In fact, in a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis conducted by Schneider Electric, Li-ion batteries provide a 10-year savings of approximately 10%. This TradeOff Tool can help make comparisons quickly and easily using various real-world inputs. Additionally, Li-ion battery technology enables business to prepare for the future in energy, including storing power from renewable sources such as solar and wind.
As businesses continue grow and modernize their IT, Li-ion batteries are an important alternative to consider. They provide necessary critical availability, while also reducing costs over time.