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Power charge

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.

Powering up

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.

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A UPS with online double conversion sits between the load and servers and produces a pure sine wave online which converted AC to DC and back again, Spiteri said. This buffered and smoothed power fluctuations. MGE OPS national distribution sales manager, Jonathan Teasdale, said there was a rise in redundancy configuration using cascadeable, modular receiver cabinet systems.

"You can increase the kVA rating by just adding a sub-module into an enclosure and creating redundancy. That's pretty much our MX range," he said. "You can add 5kVA modules all the way up to 20kVA." Teasdale said electricity network infrastructure in Australia was ageing and not being upgraded. This meant council mains transformers were degrading and affecting power delivery to businesses across the board - and thus business continuity.

"What people don't realise is that the power fluctuations occur at the end of the day. Power can go from 240V to 260V, for example, when everybody leaves and turns the lights off," he said. "An IT manager comes in next morning and it's all down. So all our UPS are remotely managed and facilities managers actually control and monitor them remotely."

As security needs go up, so did the power load on the network, Teasdale said. With modular technology from MGE, users could start with one 5kVA unit and add to it. "That's definitely a strong selling point as you get capacity," he said. "There's strong growth in the market; we're selling a lot of software too."

Another area of growth is the consumer market, where users are increasingly looking to protect expensive home entertainment and networking systems. Teasdale said MGE is aiming different tools and products at that market.

To scale Rittal Rimatrix5 product manager, Mark Roberts, argued that single-phase UPS offered little chance to differentiate but real opportunities existed at the three-phase level. And he agreed modularity was the way to go. "You can provide the customer with a solution that they can grow with. You can also size the solution closer to the critical load, which improves efficiency, because oversizing with UPS means less operational efficiently," Roberts said.

Rittal products offer 96 per cent efficiency with 100 per cent loading and, in between 27 and 97 per cent loading, they're still 95 per cent efficient - which is a good result, according to Roberts.

"Some companies put the load on bypass to get that, but we don't," he said. "So with traditional UPS, if you go and put a consolidated server on UPS, it may actually de-rate it." Roberts said the future of UPS was modular UPS with more megawatts and integration of new technologies, such as fuel cells.

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"We did a job in London a couple of years ago, in a financial company at Canary Wharf and they had data centres on two floors and moved a lot of servers from one centre to the other," he said. "So one [centre] had some load taken off but at the other site, where they had the servers, they found that by putting the extra servers in they actually lost the redundancy."

Roberts said the company simply took one module and batteries out of the UPS upstairs and carted them downstairs, fitted them in and turned them on. "So the load was protected again. Such [modular] flexibility certainly helped them," he said.

The traditional way to fix the problem would be to get a new UPS and connect it to the distribution board - and that would probably take days or weeks, he said. With modules, the new set-up took about 25 minutes.

"The biggest thing people are doing wrong is oversizing - as we move away from critical load into the actual capacity, we're becoming more and more inefficient," Roberts said.

He claimed some manufacturers' products were reasonably efficient but could waste energy rapidly once they reached 80 per cent of load.

"Today, we pay more energy out to fit the critical load and there's wasted energy in terms of heat, so you have to cool that as well," Roberts said.

Fuel cells offered a better environmental footprint and efficiency, Roberts said. Modularity also helped with efficiency. Even small businesses on a single phase solution might gain from modules, he said.

"We've a little bypass solution, which we call our hotswap chassis, which enables us to throw in a UPS and work in parallel so we can add 6kVA yet add another to make it 12kVA. And then you're probably going to a three-phase solution anyway. So that enables them to get a mini-solution," he said.

With so many other things changing in the data centre, it's difficult to keep up with power availability needs and still have redundancy.

All of these factors were opening up a major opportunity for resellers, Roberts said.