In an increasingly connected digital world, technology is changing the way we work, live and communicate – and data centres make all of this possible. However, powering these network nerve centres has proven a challenge over the years.
Developing Telecoms recently attended an online presentation at recent Huawei Better World Summit 2020 Power Digitalization 2025 by Altice Portugal’s Network Director José Pedro Nascimento, who explained how a new approach to data centre power solutions helped the operator to become more autonomous.
Altice Portugal is a convergent operator that leads the market in every segment and service, with presence in five main territories including the Dominican Republic and a number of other Caribbean islands that provide it with great experience in international services.
Its wholesale unit transforms sophisticated networks in tailored services to match its clients’ needs. From its satellite ground stations, Altice enables the success of its global satellite partners through unique locations, infrastructures and experience all over the world.
Altice has the largest national data centre network in Portugal, with managed services for IT, cloud computing and security, with its Covilha Data Centre in particular one of the largest in the world.
Its network operations centre takes care of its customers’ critical networks, platforms and IT infrastructure, whether they are hosted by the client or by third parties. The group is investing in its network to bring increased speeds and enhanced connectivity to support all digital technologies shaping the future.
In his presentation, Nascimento explained that Altice had long powered its network infrastructure using lead acid batteries. However, this caused many issues – theft was a big problem, while maintenance costs were high and autonomy was low.
The operator’s data centre systems were also ageing, and so the efficiency of the rectifiers was very poor – below 80%. There were frequent failures and no spare parts available for them, and they did not provide enough capacity to fuel the needs of the entire mobile site.
Additionally, their air conditioning and free cooling systems consumed a lot of energy and required a lot of maintenance. This resulted in high costs in addition to customers experiencing service degradation. Only one conclusion could be reached: the situation was untenable, and needed to change.
Altice’s first decision was to stop acquiring, installing and maintaining lead acid batteries, followed by a move to develop a new power system for their mobile sites which needed to be smart, power efficient, reliable, easy to build, easy to scale up, easy to maintain and easy to manage.
They began the work, defined the requirements and designed a new system with the help of Huawei. This single cabinet combines all the energy components of the site, eliminating the need for air conditioning since it was an outdoor site, while also modernising the data centre systems, allowing Altice to save energy, reduce failures and lower maintenance costs.
A major change was the introduction of lithium batteries, which helped to increase autonomy and save energy. The batteries have a longer service life, representing a future-proof investment, and also offer a large number of charge/recharge cycles. This is important because it allows massive energy savings – the batteries can be charged during off-peak hours, then feed the site during peak hours.
The batteries also boost autonomy – not in terms of grid reliability, as in Portugal this is very high, but more in terms of seasonal weather events. During the winter, thunderstorms are inevitable and can affect the power system, while in the summer, wildfires are a more common issue. With lithium batteries, the sites have longer autonomy.
Theft has also been greatly reduced following the switch to lithium batteries – while they have anti-theft software built in, fundamentally the batteries are unattractive to thieves, having little resale value. Accordingly, the number of thefts has plummeted.
To quantify these results, total power consumption dropped by 13% with air conditioning taken out of the equation, with peak hour consumption down by 10%. DC efficiency increased by more than 96%, while the uptime of sites was around 100%.
This allowed Altice to reduce costs and maintenance, while delivering better quality of service to their end users. The system is being deployed as part of a four year program, but given the existing results, Altice is optimistic of extending the programme further in the future.