Written by diesel fuel quality engineers at ESI Total Fuel Management – May 2012
The investment gap in critical power reliability
Critical power diesel generators provide asset security and protection for enterprises and society alike. In addition, they typically serve as brand extensions in data center value chains, promising optimal reliability and data integrity for customers during catastrophes. But these value chains are only as good as the management systems themselves, and investment pre-occupation with the management of mechanical generator reliability is legendary for good reason: according to one source, generators are linked to 45 – 65% of outages in data centers with an N+1 configuration. The same source indicates that investments in generator reliability have 10 times the impact of investments in other parts of the reliability chain.
However, when considering total systemic risk to diesel generator integrity, there is a disproportionate, and risky, de-emphasis on one important subsystem: Diesel Fuel Quality Systems. This happens for several reasons. First, executive facility managers, operators and business continuity managers view diesel fuel as a commodity – a “checklist” item – and often do not incorporate the management of its quality into a standardized, engineering management systems approach. Second, the permutations of risk involved in the Diesel Fuel Lifecycle™ are complex; when problems do occur, it takes an expert to identify, address and continuously mitigate those risks with the right equipment and management resources. For instance, in larger, less frequent events – such as a “failure-to-start” due to an engine design conflict with the fuel system – even the generator dealer may not be able to assist in problem-solving that brings the engine back online quickly. In reality, that type of problem-solving capability is a niche service specialty, and, although it does exist, it is not readily evident to facility managers as a widely available solution set.
The Diesel Fuel Quality System is comprised of:
- diesel fuel itself and its distribution value chain
- quality management processes (including training), problem analysis and protocols that maintain performance quality standards throughout the Diesel Fuel Lifecycle
- defect-free equipment that stores, conveys and delivers clean fuel to the engine
Diesel fuel is the lifeblood of the engine, but is not understood by facilities for what it really is – a complex system that carries its own reliability weighting and latent risk factors. In fact, diesel fuel has a lifecycle of its own – one that is independent of everything else “mechanical” and “electrical” within the data center.
Figure 1 illustrates the diesel fuel lifecycle and highlights just some of the risks which can occur at several points along an interconnected journey. One major area of weakness is the lack of investment that facility operators make in human resource and procurement best practices related to the sourcing and delivery of diesel fuel. This lack of attention can easily introduce contaminated fuel into the system, or, put the facility at risk of heavy fines from emissions regulators. Once the fuel enters storage at the facility, there is a clear lack of managerial focus in reliably executing fuel testing and analysis, and in applying those test results to a meaningful evaluation of overall risk for the facility.
Figure 1: The Diesel Fuel Lifecycle and potential risks (real-world examples in red)
Emphasis on Diesel Fuel Quality Systems will close the reliability gap
What many in management don’t realize is that diesel fuel is not just a commodity input required for operations. It is a fluid, moving asset with nearly endless permutations of risk in equipment design, handling protocols, regulatory issues, and sourcing. Diesel fuel’s chief, controllable attribute related to all of these risk configurations is diesel fuel “quality.” The Diesel Fuel Quality System, therefore, is a measurable, management systems construct that contains large-scale, systemic risk. Obviously, this should be a major focus of business continuity managers and facility executives – not just facility managers. For instance, a data center with 40,000 gallons of diesel fuel storage capacity cannot afford a mistake in ordering the wrong grade of fuel. The total cost of remediation would equal the original 40,000-gallon purchase, plus the purchase of new, correctly graded fuel, plus the purchase of outsourced sulfur remediation. The risk of a hefty fine is also a threat. This scenario has in fact cost some facilities upward of $1 million in un-planned expenses for the operator.
Too often, Diesel Fuel Quality Systems are not treated as a capital investment. Instead, they are managed with an ad hoc, “tribal knowledge” method by untrained staff when they should be part of a controlled engineering process. Fuel procurement is left to low-skilled personnel when it should be overseen by trained technicians imparted with the proper authority. Also, fuel-related reliability problems are approached with a shotgun method instead of the problem analysis approach used by Diesel Fuel Quality Systems engineers to identify and address root cause issues. Because the requirements for this skill set are generally not obvious to facility managers, they can spend months trying to fix a “failure-to-start” issue related to fuel, rather than days.
Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management™ is the enterprise investment in best management practices to eliminate single-point failures in critical power systems due to fuel-related causes. Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management combines niche diesel supply chain service and defect-free manufacturing expertise that very few firms can integrate. Technically, Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management does not exist formally as an industry in the United States; however; sub-optimal service and point-solution substitutes are rampant, adding to the confusion for facility managers when a major problem does occur. As cloud computing and migration to data-centric behaviors continue to drive our society, a top-down education approach regarding the requirements for successful Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management is a must in the critical power industry.
Total Fuel Quality Management™ means total reliability
Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management is not a maintenance routine, nor a mechanical contractor point solution; it is an integrated service delivery platform managed by personnel with engineering expertise, best practices training and historical competencies in fuel acquisition, fuel quality, proprietary fuel system manufacturing, and systematic problem analysis. When properly implemented on the enterprise level, Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management dramatically reduces the risk associated with diesel fuel failure. At that point, the Diesel Fuel Quality System is reliably integrated with the data center value chain.
Figure 2 illustrates how Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management supports the critical power value chain, chiefly through the investment of personnel who are trained and aware of the gaps in diesel fuel quality. Many critical power facilities do not create a system that provides training and awareness on the enterprise level, but instead leave it to facility managers to deal with on their own.
Figure 2: The Value Chain for Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management
supporting data center reliability.
One source claims that up to 90% of diesel engine failures are actually fuel-related. However, Diesel Fuel Quality Systems continue to be ignored by management and treated as a lower level mechanical task. During diesel fuel’s delivery to a critical power facility and after its entry into the storage and circulation system, the knowledge level of facility personnel in maintaining the reliability value-chain drops off significantly.
Investments in Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management must increase in order for critical power facilities to see a measurable decrease in incidents. In order for this to happen, the acquisition and management of diesel fuel must first be embraced by facility managers, continuity managers, and developers as a critical power investment on the same scale as the generator system itself.
Tank inspections are an integral part of Diesel Fuel Quality Systems Management.
 “7×24: Generators Are Key to Improving Reliability,” Data Center Journal, November 15, 2011: http://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2011/11/15/7×24-generators-are-key-to-improving-reliability/
 Model based on Michael Porter, 1985
 Caterpillar, Inc., Improving Component Durability: Fuel Systems, pg. 17. Third Edition