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UPS Maintenance: Avoiding the Major Case of Data Centre Downtime

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The Uptime Institute’s annual global data centre survey for 2020 is the largest of its kind. Extensive market research has been carried out to deliver an accurate and detailed analysis of the industry.

Focussing specifically on power availability, the Uptime Institute has highlighted power supply and subsequent outages as key areas for concern. Power reliability has not kept pace with the uptake of cloud based services, artificial intelligence (AI) and media streaming to name a few. Power rack densities, which are critical to design, planning and power provisioning have been under scrutiny for a number of years and are rising steadily.

As density boundaries keep being pushed, so too is power resilience. The increase in rack density means power outages are more disruptive. The Uptime Institute reported that alarmingly, there has been an upward trend of power outages over the last three years and power failure still accounts for 37% of data centre downtime. Operators need to start taking these failures more seriously, especially as bigger outages are more damaging and expensive.

Avoiding downtime remains a top technical challenge for all operators but despite the warning signals, disturbances are continuing to cause more unplanned data centre interruption. With the continuing complexity of IT and networking environments showing no sign of slowing down, increased pressures are being placed on backup power strategies.

Whilst UPS systems have been recognised as critical to safeguarding data centre infrastructure and ensuring continuous power supply, questions have been raised as to why power failure continues to be one of the main causes of data centre downtime. A frightening 75% of respondents to the Uptime Institute’s data centre survey said that most recent downtime incidents were preventable.

Further reports highlight that there is a lack of professional UPS maintenance being undertaken, which is resulting in these costly oversights. Regular preventative UPS maintenance is key to UPS reliability and as such must be carried out by trained UPS engineers. Regardless of the number of years a person has dealt with UPS systems, unless they are a fully qualified UPS engineer, they should not be carrying out any maintenance work.

Ideally, maintenance would be conducted on the UPS whilst live and on load. Working with live electricity carries a level of risk and although competent UPS engineers can carry out this work safely, many sites have a blanket ban on working with live electricity.

The only viable way around this is to put the UPS in bypass, where a qualified UPS engineer would pick up on warning signs of UPS failure. It is not enough for checklists to be filled out by an onsite electrician. Regular servicing is vital to ensuring the UPS operates exactly as it should do and wherever possible it should not be postponed.

Adopting scheduled preventative UPS maintenance must become a required standard if data centres want to reduce power failure downtime. In addition, maintenance contracts provided by specialist UPS providers like Power Control will also ensure that UPS lifecycle is not stretched. If well maintained, a typical UPS lifecycle is 8 to fifteen years. After which, capacitors and/or batteries usually require replacing and consequently make further investment prohibitive.

The instability of the current economic climate is making data centre operators reluctant to allocate CAPEX for new UPS systems, instead many are postponing critical upgrades and are risking power security. Data centre owner operators are very much in a catch 22 situation; addressing the need for greater resilience and achieving efficiency, whilst being financially savvy.

It is universally acknowledged that UPS solutions form part of critical infrastructure and this has never been a truer statement. Consumers continue to place great reliance on data centre services, which are keeping people online and connected. Avoiding power failure and minimising disruption is critical and data centres must prioritise their power protection strategies.