Surge Protection – In recent years, there has been a massive increase in the reliance of nearly all government and commercial organisations on the use of computer equipment.
Power Surges and the Risks to Electronic Equipment
Whilst bringing huge benefits in improved communication, data storage, and business efficiency, this change has also introduced a new area of vulnerability. When the computers stop working, almost every kind of commercial and administrative activity comes to a halt. There are other consequences too, if the equipment is damaged; the cost of repair or replacement will be high, and this has to be added to the financial cost of down time.
Surge Protection in Electronic Equipment
Data centre equipment is complex and sensitive. Much modern electronic equipment includes some form of surge protection as a matter of course; the uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) which are used to provide back-up in the event of a brief power failure, for example, often incorporate protection in the form of a metal oxide varistor (MOV) which uses semi-conductors to transfer excess voltage to ground. Surge protection of this kind will protect against the power spikes which may occur when other electric equipment, such as pumps and refrigeration equipment, is initiated.
Types of Additional Surge Protection
Other types of transient voltage surge suppressors (TVSS), which may be installed to protect data centre equipment, can include devices such as gas discharge tubes and selenium voltage suppressors, which have relative merits in terms of reliability, longevity, and the time taken to trigger them in the event of a power surge. It is vital to note, however, that all types of surge suppressors work by directing the power surge to ground, so all require an effective earthing device. Most importantly, it is wrong to assume that because some of the equipment in a data centre has its own surge protection, the data centre itself is protected against all risks.
Why Lightning Protection is Different
The electrical surge delivered in a lightning strike involves an extraordinary amount of power. A typical lightning bolt has an electric potential gradient in excess of three million volts per metre, and may deliver many thousands of amps. The kind of TVSS system normally installed in a data centre simply cannot guarantee lightning protection when the surge is of this kind.
Is Real Lightning Protection Possible?
Lightning protection against a direct strike is entirely feasible, but the important point to recognise is that when lightning strikes, the massive amount of energy it delivers cannot be simply dissipated; it has to be delivered, quickly and safely, to earth, so whatever devices are used, the earthing system is crucial. For this reason a data centre’s lightning protection needs to be considered ‘from the ground up’, in which consideration the advice of a specialist will be indispensable.
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