For data centres, high-functioning UPS systems are crucial to ensure critical systems remain in operation, should normal service be disrupted. Marc Garner, Vice President, Secure Power Division, Schneider Electric, UK, tells us about the benefits of IoT-enabled UPS systems in order to drive resilience, efficiency and continuity.
Uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) are a critical component of any organisation’s business continuity strategy, providing battery-based backup, should service from the mains become disrupted.
The essential requirements of a UPS are that it is reliable, easy to maintain, efficient to operate and unobtrusive – one wants to know that it is there but one would prefer that it never be needed. It should be designed with simplicity in mind, ensuring such aspects as installation, monitoring, management and scalability are made simple for the user.
Increasingly, given the high levels of automation and remote management in today’s data centres, UPSs must have IoT enabled capabilities to ensure their status can be monitored and, where possible, their operation be controlled, from outside the white space. Furthermore, any maintenance must be performed as quickly and easily as possible, with minimum downtime.
Many new systems will accommodate all of these requirements, regardless of the choice to deploy them within the largest data centre or edge computing application. One thing, however, is clear – that backup power is essential to today’s requirement for business continuity.
Installation and startup
The first place to begin in any UPS installation is with the startup configuration. This might include the size of the solution required and whether it should be single or three-phase.
Another consideration might be the speed of deployment and any sizing constraints to the area in which the UPS will be deployed. In terms of energy usage and predictability, it may need the capability to perform pre-requisites such as an Easy Loop test, which will allow the performance to be verified well in advance of connecting the load.
Finally, if the application requires a modular, scalable approach, a key requirement might be the need for additional batteries and if those will be configured internally or externally.
Expansion, resilience and scalability
Another primary consideration for continuity might be plans to accommodate future growth. Here one might consider how to arrange the UPS configuration in order to provide increased capacity, ensuring that resilience, or uptime, is of the highest priority.
For high levels of availability, a UPS may need to be deployed in a parallel, N+1 or distributed redundant design, so that the failure of any one can be accommodated without risk of total loss of power.
If the need for future expansion is critical, one might also consider use of data centre reference designs to plan and configure power systems in a way that can serve growth. This will not only enable users to select and test potential configurations but provide them with reassurance that the architecture will work as predicted.
Maintenance and battery considerations
With the blame for many outages often lying with human error, maintenance is another aspect that has to be considered as part of any business continuity plan.
To avoid downtime, it is recommended that a UPS be easily accessible from the front, which will simplify servicing throughout its life-cycle. Dust filters, for example, may need to be replaced frequently, therefore deploying a solution where they are placed on the front will allow them to be easily removed and lower any potential issues with other critical components.
Many traditional UPSs will utilise valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) battery systems, which can be far less efficient in terms of energy use, than Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) chemistries. Li-Ion offers a far longer life cycle to the user, nearing 10 years, which is often double that of VRLA. Not only does this reduce maintenance costs and the accompanying challenge of human error, but operating costs are lowered as batteries must be changed less frequently.
Finally, use of IoT-enabled sensors within newer UPS models facilitates greater remote management capabilities. Data analytics can deliver detailed insights into the system status, which ensures continuity by providing real-time alerts of potential power loss or failures. A primary example here will mean that batteries can be proactively replaced in a timely fashion, mitigating the potential for downtime and ensuring continuity for the user.
Driving efficiency and selecting operating modes
Additionally, many new UPS systems will have an energy-saving mode of operation, namely eco-mode, which bypasses the filtering stage and connects the power directly to the load. In situations where the power is unreliable and continuity is an issue, filtering of energy from the mains is highly desirable.
However, provided that there is a reasonably secure and consistent delivery of power, eco-mode trades only a small amount of reliability to deliver a resilient level of protection whilst reducing energy costs, in some cases by up to 98%.
Conversely, if operating in double-conversion mode, power output from the UPS will always pass through an inverter, providing a regular supply to the load. This provides high levels of continuity for the user as there is no loss of power in the face of an outage.
However, using this mode means there is constant wear on the power components, with attendant reduction in Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) and a knock-on effect on reliability, which must be considered in any continuity plan.
The use of Li-Ion technologies also plays a crucial role in lowering energy costs associated with UPS systems. Research by Schneider Electric and detailed in White Paper #266, found that the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of Li-Ion UPS can be much lower than VRLA, despite the initial capital expenditure (CAPEX) being higher.
VRLA batteries for example, will typically need to be replaced every four years, whereas Li-ion can remain operational for 10. Over the course of that life-cycle, the research found that use of Li-ion battery technology can provide savings of up to 53%.
Data driven monitoring and management
To ensure the highest levels of continuity, a final consideration might be the use of advanced software to drive monitoring and management.
In their most basic form, UPS systems might include an intuitive graphical user interface (GUI), which allows for simple system configuration. However, for more in-depth system monitoring, a user might choose to deploy an on-premise Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software application.
For the highest levels of continuity, deployment of cloud-based DCIM software, such as Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT Expert, become increasingly important – especially for those customers who prefer to outsource management of their facility to external service providers.
The data harvested via such cloud-based DCIM software is pooled and analysed to deliver detailed insights into how a data centre application is performing, providing the user with real-time recommendations to drive resilience, efficiency and continuity.
For many, this software provides round the clock monitoring of any IoT-enabled UPS or infrastructure system, delivering updates directly to the user’s smart phone.
As any potential issues arise they can be addressed quickly and proactively, enabling a better level of continuity for the user.
If ever a more severe problem is detected, use of the software can also allow a service professional to be dispatched to deal with the problem in person, which is especially important if the issue requires external expertise or management across a number of sites.
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