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We’ve talked a lot lately about the need for data backup and the importance of having disaster recovery plans in place in case your network goes down for any reason.
Organisations count on their systems being up and running, delivering stable, high performance levels 24 hours a day, every day of the year… and users expect the same experience every time, no matter when, or from where, they access the network. Obviously, this requires that your systems be powered 24/7/365.
Power surges on the grid, fires, floods and other disasters being spawned by Mother Nature’s increasingly wild mood swings are leading to power failure more often today than in years gone by. According to BloomEnergy, power outages in the US have tripled in the past decade. Eaton and the Ponemon Institute suggests similar increases in Canada, with Ontario having the dubious honour of experiencing 9 -10X the number of power outages of Québec, the next most populous province.
As any IT professional can tell you, a major surge, or sudden loss of power, can fell your operations – either temporarily or longer term. Restoration of power can also cause damage in the form of component burnout. In both instances, data can be lost, files corrupted and equipment damaged.
At the risk of sounding obvious, when you have mission-critical services that depend on IT, it’s imperative that you are able to maintain power 24 7/365. To do so requires, as a minimum, a secondary power source and an automated transfer switch (ATS). For many organisations, a generator is also required.
When the utility grid goes down, the following things must happen in a fraction of a second to ensure critical services and data remain accessible:
- The ATS should immediately transfer power to your backup system, usually a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Source), which acts like a battery backup.
- At the same time the ATS triggers the generator start-up, assuming the organisation has a generator in place. When power is restored, the generator will run until the electrical current flow is stable and then the ATS will trigger the system to transition power back from the generator to the primary power source.
The Importance of an Uninterruptible Power Supply
As suggested above, an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) keeps networks, equipment, point-of-sale terminals, laptops and other critical tools running in a power failure, helping to prevent data loss and apparatus damage, until your generator kicks in… or at least until you are able to shut down everything safely, if you don’t have a backup generator. Sometimes that buffer can be the difference between being able to get up and running again quickly, or not.
By connecting your routers, modems, access points, etc. you will also be able to use the Wi-Fi, which can be critical in an emergency. If employees can also tether their laptops to their cell phones, this may also buy you some extra time.
UPS systems will give you varying amounts of backup time, all of which can be extended with supplemental battery packs.
In addition to providing that power source buffer, UPS systems perform another important function. Specifically, they can condition “dirty power” coming in from the utility company, regulating the voltage as needed, which can help prolong the life of some electrical apparatuses.
Ensuring Operations Continuity
Your IT power infrastructure should be set up with two parallel approaches:
- Facility systems such as alarms, fire monitoring, HVAC, lighting, sensors and the like connect to the grid in the regular manner.
- Power for IT systems should run through the UPS continuously to ensure that connected batteries remain charged, so there is no interruption in the event of a power spike or failure.
Another important component is the Power Distribution Unit (PDU). It is normally used in conjunction with a UPS; it receives power from the UPS and then distributes it to IT systems according to protocols determined by the organisation.
|Choosing the Right UPS
For modest energy users, including residential and office buildings and most K – 12 schools, a single-phase UPS will do the job. For hospitals, large data centres, industrial manufacturing and other large power consumers, a three-phase UPS is needed. In some cases, a split-phase UPS, which can simultaneously provide 120V and 208V output may be the best option.
You also need to decide between five main types of UPS topology, which considers how your UPS system and your utility power source will work together:
- Standby UPS: With these systems, your equipment will run off utility power until the UPS detects a problem. At that point, it automatically switches to your battery power to protect your network and devices against power surges, drops in power or complete outages. These systems can be ideal to help protect Point of Sale equipment, so that transaction data is not lost.
- Line-Interactive UPS: These systems automatically boost or decrease utility power to regulate your voltage, helping to protect equipment. If you are located where power fluctuations are common, this may really help improve system and equipment functionality and longevity.
- Online UPS: In areas where utility power is highly unreliable, an online UPS is essential for mission-critical equipment. These systems serve as a buffer between equipment and raw utility power, converting electricity from AC to DC and back again as needed.
- Multi-Mode UPS: This option is often the best one for companies that need a balance of efficiency and power protection, with the system automatically switching over the moment problems are detected in the utility power source.
- Ferroresonant UPS: Today, these systems are used primarily in industrial settings such as heavy manufacturing, oil and gas, petrochemical and utilities. The only difference between these systems and line-interactive UPS, is that they use a ferroresonant transformer so that energy can be held long enough to cover the time between switching from line power to battery power, so there is no break in the energy transfer or the functioning of the equipment.
Today, with some employees continuing to work remotely, employers also need to consider whether were not smaller UPS systems might be a good investment for employees performing mission-critical tasks.
Proactively Planning for Power Problems
As part of your Disaster Recovery Plan, that should be a clear articulation of the steps to be taken, and the roles to be performed by each employee and/or department in the event of a power failure. Included in this plan should be the names of numbers of people to be contacted in the situation and plans for keeping employees and other stakeholders up-to-date.
This will include identifying the order in which systems should be shut down, and how they will be brought back online and recalibrated once power is restored.
You also need a formal maintenance plan to ensure that…
- Generators are kept in good working order,
- Ventilation is properly maintained,
- Temperatures can be monitored easily to allow for immediate intervention in the case of overheating, and
- Other emergency systems, such as pumping equipment, are good working order.
Lastly, you need written processes in place to test the performance of switching from your primary power source to the UPS and/or generator – especially in critical data centres. These processes must be tested on a regular basis to ensure that everything will work the way it should, and that generators will support the necessary electrical load in the event of a power failure.
Clearly, protecting against power outage disruptions, by having redundant systems and remote monitoring in place, has become an expected standard in business operations today. This includes having the right UPS in place is paramount to your critical load being supported during blackouts or times of uneven power quality.