You might not think of motorcycle racing in the same breath as uninterruptible power supply (UPS), but Emerson Network Power senior marketing manager, Peter Spiteri, does. For him, UPS is the final factor influencing, if not dictating, your overall speed in the race: maximum performance in the datacentre, like on the racetrack, is reliant on your tyres.
"It's like the difference between the things MotoGP racers rely on - you need the motorcycle and the rider, then finally it comes down to your tyres," Spiteri said. "Power protection is where the rubber hits the road." Everything depends on traction. If you're riding fast on the wrong tyres for the conditions, the first time you lean past 45 degrees into a corner you'll end up with a "bum full of splinters", as Spiteri put it.
Datacentre managers are facing a similar situation with power protection as C-level discussions increasingly revolve around ways to virtualise the network and introduce VoIP and video-over-IP. CFOs and CIOs are promoting such technologies to take advantage of potential cost savings and other efficiencies, but it all depends on keeping the power up. And as the stakes rise, that fact becomes ever more mission-critical, Spiteri said.
"The opportunity for resellers is enormous," he said. "It's a whole paradigm shift that's catching everyone off guard. People are wanting power protection but what they are not asking is what sort of power protection they need."
Voice and video, in particular, require more consistent networking, including QoS and a stable power supply.
"Say I'm sending you an email and there's a glitch in the power. My network and your network talk to each other and go, 'I've got these last few packets, packets 7, 8 and 9' and send them again," Spiteri said. "I call that 'real-enough' time, because you get it five minutes later. But applications like voice and video need it done in real time."
Today, anybody selling VoIP networks was struggling with cut-throat margins, he said. "It's even harder now because it's so easy to set things up - you can't really charge for the intelligence or services," Spiteri said.
What you can do is have a conversation with the customer about how their network is holding up. Resellers can look into whether the amount of power product online or otherwise is enough to hold the customer's network up in a worst case scenario. They can talk to customers about what they plan to do in future, and teach them what technology addresses their power needs. Resellers can also educate customers about the different requirements that need to be considered - because it's a long time since UPS was a one-size-fits-all solution, he said.
Spiteri claimed resellers who can take that basic platform topology and articulate the need to the customer can gain the channel holy grail - recurring revenue. "You get more revenue, higher blended margin and better customer lock-in, because in that process you know more about that customer," Spiteri said.
American Power Conversion (APC) country manager, Gordon Makryllos, said consolidation and demand for more performance per inch of silicon and storage were putting pressure on the power. Skills shortages in the industry also meant companies couldn't spread human resources out to fix the problem.
"With both trends we are seeing centralisation of management and a need for high availability of power as more information is moving across the data network externally and internally," he said. "There's more power wanted in the rack. And you need to monitor it all remotely." APC provides power solutions from 350VA and up for desktop, computer room or factory floor. One management layer - a single console - can oversee all of that, including the health of all APC devices on the network, Makryllos said.
"We can monitor everything on the network - including the quality of batteries, how much life is left in the battery, and alarms," he said.
APC channel partners are putting remote managed services around those capabilities involving configuration of the network and centralised management. Notification of critical issues can happen via email or SMS. "Part of the same network and software will alert the customer and channel partner that someone has entered the room for example," Makryllos said. "A little trigger device by the door [can be installed]. When someone opens the door or a rack you've got a motion sensor device you can attach."
A lot of vendors - particularly storage specialists - will void a customer's warranty if they can't prove they've managed the network environment properly. UPS can also help customers show they've done everything possible to manage their network environment, Makryllos said. "Our UPS can also trigger a shutdown process," he said. "According to data trapped on movement, temperature, humidity and so on, it offers graceful shutdown if they go over certain, customisable parameters."
Makryllos said APC spent a lot on software R&D, but new technologies, such as fuel cell gear, were likely to prove beneficial to UPS in the not-too distant future. "The other big thing is hot-swappable batteries. Previously we had to shut down the system to replace the battery, but today some applications can't even be turned off on a Sunday," Makryllos said. "We have a configurable tool we make available to our partners for that."
A harder taskmaster Emerson's Spiteri said certain UPS products are more equal to the task than others. Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) enables different vendors' gear to talk to each other. UPS with SNMP lets customers use various proprietary brands of networking gear.
"Our product makes sure we can monitor alerts and threats from any vendor's equipment by going through SNMP and bringing everything back to a common management platform," he said.
Customers are also often unaware of the different kinds of UPS for specific situations. Line interactive, for instance, just sits and watches. If the power goes away it cuts in and the battery protects the network, Spiteri said.
UPS that harnessed oscilloscope technology copes better with more dangerous situations, such as brownouts - where the power goes away and comes back. An example is a big storm, which could cause a spike.
On the other hand, double conversion technology was ideal for mission-critical networks or those migrating to unified communications, he said.