UPS vendors stake their ground

UPS vendors stake their ground

In terms of vast technological advancements the UPS market is fairly static. The most significant developments take the form of varied buying options, server bundles, support and sales tools offered by manufacturers. For VARs, it’s worth shopping around, reports Agnes King.

UPS sales throughout 2002 have been steady and relatively unscathed by the downturn in PC sales and server spend. December in particular proved lucrative thanks to some week-long power outages and continual fluxes in the Sydney area. UPS vendor APC recorded 39 power problems in a single day as a result of a sub-station fire. Meanwhile, the general instability of power in Victoria and regional Australia continued to be a healthy driver for the sector. On the whole, it’s encouraging that belt tightening in the private sector and the government’s fervent interest in battling the ‘war against terror’ rather than upgrading the nation’s core infrastructure has an upside.

So while the year may not have produced any earth-shattering technology advancements (incremental spec increases, additional connectivity options and smaller footprints are about as good as it gets in the battery world) UPS vendors have been steadily carving out their niches and embarking on refresh cycles.

APC managing director Leanne Cunnold says the company’s Reliability Upgrade program launched in September has been well utilised by resellers, which have converted some ordinary sales leads into big-ticket purchase orders. “It’s a great tool for resellers because it generates leads for non-UPS equipment as well,” she said.

Over 55 resellers have gone through training and while Cunnold says it’s difficult to gauge the incremental sales as a result of the program, the success stories are filtering back.

Networking specialist Powerfirm, for example, was called in by a customer to do a battery replacement for a single server, worth about $500, and walked away with a $15,000 sale in addition to $20,000 worth of potential business.

Similarly, Sydney-based integrator Regal IT is in the process of soliciting a $20,000 sale that grew out of a $200 UPS lead.

Like APC, Invensys Energy Systems entered its seven-to-eight year refresh cycle in 2002 which saw the vendor take eight new UPS ranges to market, amounting to more than 30 individual products. The vendor has another three to launch before March next year.

Despite being a tough year for IT, Invensys general manager of sales and marketing Michael Mallia says it’s been a strong year for the vendor, with sales increasing 10 per cent on last year. He estimates this has inflated Invensys’ market share by roughly 5 per cent at the expense of other brands and is due largely to the attention the manufacturer has paid to its channel partners.

Mallia says that rather than launching its new products with splashy marketing campaigns, the vendor has invested in technical legs on the ground to assist resellers in a professional services capacity, going with them to pitch to the customer and giving them free access to training.

Mallia says VARs find it comforting to have the expertise of the vendor present. “I’ve said time and again that unless an integrator is dealing with UPS everyday, it’s hard for them to sell all the ins and outs of the product to the customer. It takes a long time to train someone up properly, and for those IT specialists that don’t want to make UPS part of their core offering we provide an alternative,” he said.

While the churn of UPS units has been quite steady throughout the year, the strength of market segments has also been very even. APC reports strong sales in medium enterprise (20 to 40 KVA) and Opti-UPS has registered strong growth in units for home PC protection (the sale of $170 units with the capacity to protect one PC and one monitor are common). Opti-UPS trialled a bundling program through its distributor Synnex for the first time this year, coupling UPSes with server raid arrays. The exercise is as much about getting the Opti-UPS brand out into the market as it is about raising awareness of power protection, says Opti-UPS country manager Australia/NZ, Greg Jan.

“As long as you lower the price customers see it as good value,” says Jan. “For an extra $200 our customers can get a UPS with their server. That’s not the real price of the UPS. If you were to buy it as a standalone it would cost around $500. If they are buying a $3,000 unit they would be spending about $100,000 on other infrastructure, so the UPS represents only 3 per cent of their server price. Once customers get used to having a UPS to protect their server and they want to upgrade, they will better understand the value and be willing to pay full price.”

There are a few newbie concepts to keep an eye on in the coming year. APC recently unveiled its PowerStruXure project, “a revolutionary, high-availability, scalable data centre architecture that prevents wasteful capital expenditure,” according to Cunnold.

PowerStruXure essentially changes the way UPS units are packaged, sold and upgraded, giving customers greater flexibility. From a recent survey of customers, APC found that in addition to a growing desire to optimise capital expenditure, customers are being asked to plan their power needs three to five years in advance. Companies see their electrical infrastructure as a significant investment and they want to be able to move it to another location, says Cunnold. It’s also unrealistic to suggest that they can accurately predict their power requirements 10 to 15 years from now so we are packaging our products in a more scalable fashion.

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