Pumping up the power

Pumping up the power

Dealing with power outages and power viruses requires UPS know-how.

Infact, the UPS market is currently on an upswing due to ongoing concerns about power availability and management, according to researcher company, Frost and Sullivan. Resellers can educate end-users about maintaining operations, helping reduce costs and increase operational efficiency.

Organisations need help running their operations without interruptions and to protect equipment from power abnormalities such as sags, transients, voltage dips and blackouts. IBM has estimated a typical computer is subjected to more than 120 power problems per month. Effects range from subtle keyboard lockups and minor system crashes to complete data loss or permanent hardware damage.

Enter the helpful UPS system, which can take one of three forms: standby (or offline), online, and line-interactive. A UPS unit consists of a battery, charger/rectifier and inverter that provide back-up when electrical power fails or drops.

According to Frost and Sullivan, increased spending in the enterprise and consumer markets on UPS systems for PCs and servers is expected this year.

The conventional UPS market was prospering due to an improved economy and a renewed purchase cycle, Frost and Sullivan’s program manager for backup solutions, Farah Saeed, said.

Overall, UPS systems offer reliability, monitoring, resource centralisation and cost savings. Current trends included cross-platform integration in data centres, along with remote monitoring, country manager for Opti Australia, Greg Jan, said.

“It used to be designed for Windows and Mac, but now we’re using Java as the core,” he said.

Other considerations when choosing the technology included ease of installation, user-friendliness, surge protection, warranty, and helpdesk service, Jan said.

Indeed, manufacturers are introducing compact models with smaller footprints and increased power density, manageability and serviceability.

Resellers can help educate end users about the benefits of installing proper power protection solutions for the network infrastructure.

Belkin product manager, Denis Valente, said while the Australian UPS market in the SME space was mature, there were areas of growth.

He said the technology was attractive because it allowed protection from power fluctuations, and gave end users the ability to monitor, control and shut down servers remotely via Internet protocol. When mixed with a rackmount surge protector, the UPS could expand to protect bandwidth to accommodate the growing needs of the enterprise, he said.

And while end-users were pretty clued up about what a UPS is and its main benefits, Valente said they needed to be assured they could obtain strong local technical support on their UPS investments, as well as a good warranty.

As such, Valente said the key to success in a crowded market was offering enhanced service and support.

“We have a solid infrastructure here in Australia,” Valente said. “We don’t need to send product overseas. The company can dispatch a replacement the same day.”

Other key service features include a recyling program. Where new Belkin UPS products are purchased, Valente said the company will recycle used products, regardless of brand.

Frost and Sullivan suggests offering service programs including monitoring and maintenance.

“Since end-users select supplier reputed to offer quick response and repair time, efficient maintenance services gain further significance,” the researcher said.

Service (including pre- and post-sales support) was critical in standing out from the gaggle of UPS vendors in Australia, along with the lower cost solutions hitting the market from overseas vendors, according to UPS product manager for M+H Power Systems, Corey Roberts.

“We have witnessed the disturbing trend by many of the overseas vendors of offering low cost solutions using compromise technology, rather than the correct solution for each opportunity,” he said.

Roberts said the overseas activity started about four years ago in an effort to recapture market share.

In the early days of the UPS market, online was the norm as it provided the best level of UPS protection and best voltage regulation, but it was expensive, he said. Therefore, vendors moved towards the lower end of the market and rolled out standby or offline gear — a technology that had been phased out years ago.

“The UPS industry went from the sublime to the ridiculous and developed this technology that did very little to protect the equipment when power was running [it only switched to battery if voltage went far off spec or if power failed completely],” he said. “Now it’s very cheap so vendors flooded the lower end of the market — and really did a disservice to the reseller market by not educating to the limitations of the technology.”

Behind the eight-ball

Today, Roberts said the company was on a mission to educate end-users — via resellers — about the benefits of using appropriate UPS technology with good voltage regulation, along with correct UPS battery management.

While the Australian market operates at 240 volts, most of the overseas markets operate at 220 volts.

“The majority of the overseas vendors that are selling into Australia are 220 volt products that have been tweaked to operate at 240,” he said.

The overseas products will have a good low-end voltage regulation — if voltage drops it boosts it quite well — but if the voltage goes high, their products switch to battery (similar to the operation of a standby UPS).

“They are already 20 volts behind the eight-ball,” Roberts said. “And we’ve always offered to the market a much higher spec product because it is designed to operate within the Australian marketplace.”

To stay ahead of the game, Roberts said the company peddled solutions in all three UPS categories — offline to stay competitive — but educated resellers about what was appropriate in each situation.

“I refer to it as the better than nothing technology, but if used in the wrong environment it can be harmful to the solution,” he said. “Put it in the wrong environment where the power is continually off-spec, the UPS can either switch to battery and not recover, or because the technology is not designed to run on battery very frequently, which is another compromise of the technology, it drastically shortens the life of the equipment.

“So what happens is the client, having not been educated, will blame the reseller for selling them a dud product; whereas in fact, it’s just they had the inappropriate technology for their application.”

Indeed, resellers need to recognise their responsibility in offering appropriate UPS solutions to customers.

In the IT market, 90 to 95 per cent of all sales come in the line interactive arena because the technology regulates voltage and then switches over to battery if power fails.

“The technology has come to a stage where it supports the IT applications very well,” Roberts said.

As the server and PC market grew, organisations realised offline technology wasn’t up to snuff, he said. Today, standby technology was predominantly sold to the home user.

“Offline technology wasn’t good enough, so they produced a technology that still has the inverter offline, but monitors and regulates main power,” Roberts said. “So you are getting a clean supply of power while the mains are off, and then when mains fail, you get a small transferring switching time over to battery supply power.”

Working with resellers, M+H offered partnership sales, which he said saw the end client receive the most appropriate solution, and freed the reseller from the necessity of going beyond a reasonable understanding of the correct technology for each application.

“Cost and corner cutting in the provision of network solutions, where high-availability is of critical concern, requires the services of a suitably focused consultant that many UPS vendors do not possess,” Roberts said.

And while Valente agreed the lower cost products were having an impact on the market, the majority of resellers weren’t swayed. Instead, the channel wanted to ensure the availability of top quality goods, along with good support and honourable warranties, he said.

“The reality is there are dodgy vendors, but they are a flash in the pan,” Valente said. “They are not here for the long-term.”

Lower cost products from overseas have had an impact on the market over the last 12 to 18 months, Opti’s Jan said. But the company was flexing its muscles in the SMB market by offering strong warranty packages along with a new insurance coverage program.

What’s hot in UPS-land?

Belkin’s Valente said the latest innovation was on the software management front where the technology now included features such as alarm alerts.

Updated software that could manage multiple platforms was key, he said.

“While there is innovation, there’s no great revolution,” said Valente. “It’s a steady evolution of product, service and support.”

Environmental monitoring of a computer room was another attractive feature, Roberts said.

The demand for higher power density, along with unique user programmable features and remote access were other key features.

The move towards rackmountability was also a significant trend as it offered consolidation, APC marketing manager, Caroline Clement, said.

Since 2003, APC has offered resellers a scalable, rack-optimised, power and cooling data centre architecture with system wide management.

“Like leggo blocks, the channel can now answer the data centre questions,” she said. “And as the data centre grows, new technology can be added.”

Dubbed InfraStruXure, the technology consists of pre-assembled components including modular and scalable UPS, power distribution units, metered power rails and rack enclosures, as well as remote and environmental monitoring, APC general manager for A/NZ, Paul Munten, said.

The CSIRO, Australian Tourist Commission, Flight Centre and Tenix Defense had already taken to the rackmountable concept, Munten said.

The idea was to offer IT and facilities managers a more complete and integrated solution.

Alternate energy sources

Looking ahead, the technology was morphing to other energy sources. Today, 95 per cent of all UPS use lead acid batteries as the primary DC source, according to Frost and Sullivan’s Saeed.

And while lead acid technology is proven, Saeed said the flipside was the technology had not been consistent with the progression of the datacom market.

“Technology advancements have been slow and are close to saturation point,” she said. “Limitations are in the form of heavy weight, excess footprint, temperature sensitivity, long charging time, and environmental toxicity.

“All these are preventing UPS designs from reaching its ultimate goals. UPS technology/designs are consistently improving in terms of offering increased redundancy, scalability and advanced software. But the physical appearance [such as size and weight] is dependent on the size of the lead acid battery.”

Fuel cell technology, along with flywheel and ultra capacitors, was being touted as a replacement to lead acid or as a complementary solution, Saeed said.

Locally, Roberts said that while the company was developing alternate technology, a UPS using nickel metal hydrate (slated to launch in the next six months), he did not see the overall Australian market moving towards this scenario.

“We would love the market to look at alternative chemistries: NiCad, lithium, nickel metal hydrate batteries,” he said. “The main impediment is cost.”

With the launch next year, Roberts said M+H would be the first UPS on the Australian market to use nickel metal hydrate technology.

“The benefit of nickel metal hydrate technology over the standard lead acid battery is in its performance,” he said.

“You rate a UPS at the same size as nickel metal hydrate against lead acid, you get three times the battery back up time. More bang for your buck.”

Other vendors dabbling with alternate technologies included Liebert, Alpha Technologies and MGE UPS Systems, Saeed said.

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