Managing power strategically

The quality of the power supplied by your local utility company can be a deceptive commodity. You assume that utility power is a steady, consistent stream feeding all your electrical devices, but that is not always the case. The quality of power varies, shortening the lifespan of system components and creating problems that affect the availability and integrity of data. Unconditioned power from the utility company is not always suitable for sophisticated electronics, such as computer equipment,

Managing power strategically

Derrick Finan

Exide Electronics Group Inc.

The quality of the power supplied by your local utility company can be a deceptive commodity. You assume that utility power is a steady, consistent stream feeding all your electrical devices, but that is not always the case. The quality of power varies, shortening the lifespan of system components and creating problems that affect the availability and integrity of data. Unconditioned power from the utility company is not always suitable for sophisticated electronics, such as computer equipment, telecommunications systems, or other digital technology.

There are many power fluctuations every day that go unnoticed--power surges, high-voltage spikes, and power sags. Other, more visible power problems include blackouts and brownouts. Whether easily detectable or not, these fluctuations can cause costly computer downtime. A study in a leading computer publication has shown that average revenue losses due to downtime are approximately $78,000 per hour. In many cases, the loss is much greater. Credit-card authorization centers, for example, lose $2.6 million per hour, according to Contingency Planning Research Inc. A noted insurance agency once calculated that power surges alone cause more than $318 million in damage in the United States each year.

Power audit can help

While several options are available to help you determine your power-protection needs, the best and safest is to schedule a professional power audit. This procedure is a physical inspection of your site by a trained power engineer. The engineer, using power-measurement tools, can analyze key areas at your site to detect potential or ongoing problems. The data collected from the inspection will aid the engineer in determining the appropriate levels of power protection for your facility. Without a power audit, you might purchase more power protection than is necessary and incur extra expense. Or worse, you might purchase less power protection than you need, leaving critical equipment and data vulnerable to unexpected power problems.

Once your power-management needs have been clearly defined, the next challenge is to establish a power-protection and power-management strategy that can offer solutions tailored to your current and future needs. Power protection and management involve far more than a "box of batteries" designed to react only when power problems occur. Strategic power management involves a range of products, technologies, partnerships, and services and takes into account communication connectivity and enterprise-wide monitoring--all of which are designed to ensure maximum uptime. Providers of uninterruptible power supplies (upss) who take a strategic approach and offer a variety of products and services can more closely match your exact needs. In some cases, a centralized ups might be more appropriate than several smaller, distributed systems. In other cases, ups flexibility and growth are required to accommodate continually changing needs.

ups technologies

There are three main types of ups technologies: standby, line-interactive, and online. Standby upss, also known as offline devices, are the best solution for less critical applications that require only minimal battery back-up time. Power voltage and frequency changes are not regulated by a standby ups. These inconsistencies, then, will pass through to your system. Standby upss offer only limited protection against power sags, frequency variations, and brownouts.

A line-interactive ups provides slightly more power protection than a standby ups. This technology offers simple voltage regulation by using a transformer to step up or step down the utility voltage during brownout and overvoltage conditions. Line-interactive ups products are good choices for protecting applications such as workstations and lan servers that are less tolerant of utility voltage swings and that can benefit from the use of power-management software for power monitoring and automatic system shutdown.

The third type of ups product uses online technology, providing the most comprehensive power protection and the most robust communications and network support. Online technology replaces the utility as the primary source of power by converting the utility AC voltage to tightly regulated DC voltage, which is then electronically synthesized into continuous, clean AC power for mission-critical applications. This technology eliminates AC power disturbances and transients from reaching your critical systems and provides steady, continuous power regardless of the condition of the utility voltage.

Online designs often have a wider tolerance for utility voltage changes and can compensate electronically for most sags and overvoltages without using the internal ups batteries. Online ups products are the correct solution for applications where availability and long-term reliability are your key concerns.

Service an issue

An often overlooked but very important consideration when purchasing power protection is service. Leading-edge customer service is a technologically based discipline, going far beyond merely correcting malfunctions. Typically, the service package provides for warranties, installation, maintenance, repair, training, and consulting.

When selecting a ups vendor, you need the backing and support of a convenient and proactive service program. A convenient service program should give you one telephone number for power-management service and options that include technical hotline support, depot repair services, and 24-hour access to in-field service technicians.

Understanding your needs and knowing what you`re purchasing are the two most important factors when selecting a power-management solution. In an effort to reduce expenses, you might be tempted to purchase a low-cost power-management solution to protect your computer systems or network. This is not always the wisest choice. Power protection must not be viewed as merely an expense; it should be seen as an investment in availability assurance. The cost of losing critical data or replacing systems is far greater than the investment you`ll make in any ups solution.

Strategic power management is a concept that takes all variables of an installation into account and addresses them with advanced technologies, a full range of hardware and software product options, responsive service, and strategic partnerships. Strategic ups solutions provide the necessary protection without wasting resources. With strategic power management, your enterprise will enjoy higher systems availability, lower service costs, and improved network user satisfaction.

Darrick Finan is director of marketing, network, and communication systems for ups vendor Exide Electronics Group Inc., headquartered in Raleigh, NC. In business for over 30 years, Exide Electronics Group offers standby, line-interactive, and online uninterruptible power supplies, as well as power-management software. For more information, visit the Exide Electronics Web site at www. exide.com.

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