Guarding the fort requires a solid power protection plan as surges and sags, electrical noise, power spikes from lightning and other electrical interference can wreak havoc on the network.
Power nasties - like the recent blackouts in the US, Canada, London, Sydney and Malaysia - can lead to lost business and equipment damage. So what's the answer?
While often overlooked, companies need an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) device designed to maintain the quality and continuity of power supplied to critical equipment, sales manager of MGE UPS, James Fraser, said.
The increasing dependence on microprocessor equipment such as data storage and network equipment is also enforcing the importance of continuous availability of power, according to researchers from Frost and Sullivan.
With the deregulation of local power systems, and the unstoppable urban sprawl, power protection systems are now more important than ever, APC infrastructure certified trainer, Jason Rylands, said.
On average, APC gets 150 calls per day from customers complaining about spikes, surges and brownouts that result in downtime.
"Data is worth more than the hardware, so customers need to think in terms of data protection and availability - and investing in UPS is one way to do that," Rylands said.
At a quick glance, what's up for grabs to help protect the data? According to Fraser, there are two types of UPS systems: online and offline, with the latter grouped into line interactive and standby.
Line interactive protects equipment against the most common power quality problems, while top-end online double conversion ensures high quality output from all power issues.
Improvements in battery life, as well as the addition of wireless paralleling to protect the internetworking equipment, are recent technological advancements that are driving the market. Sleeker designs and more efficient products are other drivers, Frost and Sullivan said.
New compact models with smaller footprints and increased power density, manageability and serviceability satisfy customers that need to reduce costs and increase operational efficiency, translating into brighter prospects for the market, the research firm noted.
So how big is the market locally? Although the majority of investment is likely to be in the IT services and software sector, investments in hardware can still have a positive impact on the demand for UPS units in the Australian market, Frost and Sullivan said.
Top UPS trends include consolidation, increased availability and simplified management. The advent of inexpensive, non-branded, imported UPS units has led to price wars in the sub-3kVA range, which is causing an adverse affect on margins, Frost and Sullivan said.
Given the landscape, where can vendors and resellers look for some market opportunities?
The SMB market, in particular, is less likely than the top end of town to have power protection in place to deal with the outages, analysts agreed. So resellers take note.
Considering technologies like voice over IP (VoIP) and power over Ethernet (PoE) are starting to make an appearance in the SMB space, resellers should look for some action there. SMBs need to scale-up power protection products to deal with these emerging technologies.
In fact many companies - large and small - need to scale up their power protection products because the infrastructure is old and badly in need of maintenance, analysts warned.
And now SMBs are jumping on the IP telephony bandwagon, power protection is finally entering the conversation, agreed Fraser.
As such, the company's latest release - the Midspan - is responding to the need for boosted power. It caters for everything from SOHO to large enterprises, he said.
VoIP is one of many new mission critical applications being deployed at a fast rate on enterprise networks, Fraser said. "When selecting a UPS system, it's important to consider how long the installation should be able to sustain a power outage," he said.
For VoIP applications, typical customers need a range of between half an hour and four hours of backup time, he said. Other considerations include remote monitoring functionality.
"Often, the UPS equipment is hidden far away from the administrator in switch closets and therefore needs to be remotely managed," Fraser said.
Meanwhile, PoE helps make VoIP deployments simple and highly available, Fraser said. By using the technology, IT managers and users will get the same level of availability from their VoIP architecture as they experience with the traditional circuit switched telephony systems.
Essentially, PoE allows users to power IP-connected devices such as IP phones and wireless LAN access points over the existing LAN cabling infrastructure, according to Fraser.
"It integrates data, voice and power over standard LAN infrastructure," he said.
Given the push towards IP telephony and PoE, power protection is now becoming more important as companies begin to recognise the need to integrate power into the IT network.
"There's an integration of power and data together," Fraser said. "With these and other mission critical applications, we're refocusing our energies into the IT channels market."
And it's not just about power protection - resellers can set up the complete data centre or dedicated computer room, Fraser said. At the SMB level, there's often no in-house IT staff, so partners can package up the complete system and offer repeatable services.
These can include site auditing and consulting, Fraser said. Some ideas include annual power protection audits assignments, annual performance checks and corrective maintenance coverage.
"Partners can do a power audit, then install and maintain the equipment and offer ongoing support," Fraser said. Warranty extension packages as well as regular site inspections are other money making areas, he said.
Adding to the mix, analysts said resellers could also offer emergency response and call out, service and support on any make and model of UPS, power conditioning equipment, chargers or DC power supplies; comprehensive or remedial maintenance; and installations, commissioning, modifications, enhancements and repairs.
Preventive maintenance and remote monitoring - which includes battery maintenance, service training, UPS enhancements and spare parts kits - are all part of the mix.
Indeed, there's no shortage of reseller tasks associated with power protection, Fraser agreed. "We cover everything you can package in an electrical environment," he said. "In data centres and computer rooms, some considerations include flooring, air conditioning, UPS, the switch gear, commissioning and maintenance."
But local channel manager for Emerson Network Power, Peter Spiteri, said the average IT manager doesn't understand power issues. He said they typically fixate on the traditional networking space and are up-to-speed with routers, switches and applications.
"As we start to see the convergence of voice and data, the IT manager needs to understand power capacity and outages," he said.
Despite the positive outlook, tech advancements and solid reasons for investment, the message still isn't getting out about the importance of installing power protection gear, Spiteri said.
The company is heavily pitching VoIP and PoE protection solutions for the SME space. It recently launched equipment that scales from the SMB space up to large enterprise and beyond.
"We sell 500Va to 4000kVA, which has enough juice to power a small town," Spiteri said.
Given the range, resellers have opportunities across the board, particularly with installing VoIP technology.
"Over the next five years, 20 per cent of companies will move from PBX systems to VoIP," Spiteri said. "Resellers can take advantage of the switch."
He said true online double conversion technology, rather than standard or line interactive, which most vendors sell at the same price point, is best suited to business-critical protection like VoIP.
Applications like high-speed network switches, e-commerce servers and Internet telephony are creating the need to support ever-growing loads in shrinking space, he said.
In a bid to rev up the local market, Cisco recently partnered with Emerson to certify the Liebert IP Telephony Availability System, a UPS for Cisco's AVVID IP telephony products.
Spiteri said this makes Liebert the only such product certified by Cisco to protect its telephony equipment.
When designing the network, not all parts need to be souped up with a UPS, he said.
"You can have the core network [the mission-critical parts] protected by double conversion and then have line interactive out to the perimeter," he explained.
As such, the reseller can help a customer design the power protection hierarchy, he said.
"The IT manager used to think in terms of the data network," he said. "But the game has changed and smart resellers who understand topologies can mix in voice and power protection."
Still, power protection is catching many people off-guard, he added.
"Playing with mains and the power supply - all the things that go bang - can bring down not only the power but the people if there's little education," he warned.
"People tend to know about quality of service, and interoperability issues, but they are not thinking about power."
But Frost and Sullivan said there appears to be an improvement in potential end-user awareness of the importance of UPS units for power protection.
End users such as government departments, financial institutions, and hospitals that operate critical systems are fully aware of the importance of a UPS unit to the continual functioning of their systems, the report said.
Power heavyweight, APC, is also responding to the SMB trend towards adopting emerging technologies such as VoIP and PoE. The convergence of voice and data networks is placing higher demands on availability expectations, APC's Rylands said.
"VoIP, e-commerce, Wi-Fi and data-enabled PBX systems are a few of the applications driving the need for Smart-UPS XL," he said.
In addition to the push towards VoIP and PoE technologies, Rylands said there is a movement towards purchasing rack-mountable gear.
"There's been an increase in the rack mount units and higher rated UPS systems," he said. "People are moving towards rack-based equipment to power multiple units. Centralisation - where users buy a bigger UPS to power more servers - is translating into improved management and cost savings."
Opti-UPS general manager, Greg Jan, said SMBs need to consider reliability issues when selecting a UPS. "The UPS is the final line to protect the equipment, and reliability should be a top consideration," he said.
Back-up time; management software; ease of use; as well as the number of outlets are considerations that fit on the reliability card, Jan said.
As such, the first priority for any SMB is the server's power protection, he said.
"SMB servers normally look for up to 10 minutes' backup time to provide enough time for all clients to save back their files to the central database, and the servers can be shut down properly through the UPS shutdown software."
Equally important is the management software, which provides information about the UPS, input/output power, loading and battery capacity, as well as network management tools.
"The IT manager is able to monitor and command shutdown whenever there is an event of power failure to either server or clients," Jan said.
APC's Rylands said the company's UPS trade-in program gives resellers and customers a way to upgrade existing units and to ensure reliability.
He said an old UPS - in excess of four years under normal usage conditions - increases the risk of damage to the new PC or server. Under the program, users can buy new APC units from a reseller and the company will pay for up to 250kg of old units to be picked up for disposal.
At the same time, Rylands said refresh rates are getting pushed back from two years to five, so resellers need to respond to the growing trend.
"Resellers can go back into a site, put in new batteries, refurbish the equipment and offer a new warranty so a customer doesn't need to buy new equipment," he said.
To compensate for the slow repurchase cycle characterising the UPS market, vendors need to package expert post-sales backup service, maintenance, monitoring and other complementary products as well, according to Frost and Sullivan.