Industry Insights

Today, selecting the right battery for your data center is not a simple task. There are numerous Valve-Regulated (VRLA) and Flooded Lead Acid batteries from which to choose. Now, with the advancements in lithium-ion technology, lithium batteries are becoming a viable option for many data center UPS, ancillary power backup and switchgear applications.

There are numerous benefits moving from a traditional to a performance-based asset management and maintenance strategy for your data center infrastructure. From lower cost of ownership to integrated service and maintenance processes – by implementing a performance-based maintenance strategy you can do more with less and drive improvements in operational efficiencies.

According to a 2016 study from Ponemon Institute, the average cost per minute of an unplanned outage is nearly $9,000 per incident. The same study found that UPS system failure continues to be the number one cause of unplanned outages. Further, data center surveys have shown between 65-85% of unplanned downtime can be attributed to battery failure of some kind. As a result, battery strings must be replaced before they fail in order to meet 100% availability and prevent unplanned downtime.

First developed in the early 1980’s, Battery Monitoring Systems (BMS) have been deployed in data centers of all sizes as a management tool to determine the health performance and increase the lifespan of battery assets. Traditionally, measuring each and every unit in a string of batteries has been seen as the optimal way to capture performance data of backup power systems. While this may have been a reasonable process for data centers 20 years ago, data centers are currently expanding at a rapid rate – requiring more power and, as a result, more battery assets to measure and manage.

Today, nearly every piece of equipment in a data center has at least one sensor attached to it, and most every facility manager is aware that monitoring systems have the autonomy to send an alert in the event of any abnormality, such as a simple limit breach.

However, instead of empowering operators with the confidence to prevent incidents and outages, monitoring systems may actually create a false sense of security. The operations team can get locked into a passive, reactive role, being assured that the monitoring system(s) will alert them if there is an issue. Unfortunately, by the time the equipment does signal an operator, it is usually far too late to take any proactive action - the damage is already done and the staff is forced into reaction mode, or worse, emergency maintenance.

In today’s complex IT environment, insurance is considered a necessary evil by many facility managers to help mitigate risk and protect their business in the event of a disaster.  It is normal, prudent and advised – just ask the insurance agent, lawyer or financial advisor representing that specific financial investment tool. The challenge with insurance, however, is that it is structured to help you recover from a negative event. Insurance doesn’t get you ahead, rather, it seeks to get you back to even after your business has been impacted by some catastrophe.

Since the data center emerged in the early 60′s, monitoring and managing backup-power systems has involved substantial upfront capital, unplanned maintenance expenses, costly personnel training and time-consuming reporting. In addition, facility managers typically replace their batteries every four years without a second thought – risking a costly power outage if their batteries fail before their scheduled replacements, or missing the opportunity to improve ROI if the batteries can extend beyond five years. Not to mention, the actual battery monitoring process requires dedicated personnel to analyze data and react to alarms.

As data center operators look to leverage the benefits of a growing expanse of available performance data accrued from infrastructure monitors, a few key questions need to be addressed. Where does this information go?  How does the organization make the best use of the new found details of equipment status and performance?  Who manages the data, analysis, and recommendation process?  How does the information impact decision making, processes, and policies?  In essence, what do they do now?

Remember when data center preventative maintenance was a quarterly, mandatory process that allowed straightforward budgeting and planning?  It was all very orderly, neat and predictable.  Unfortunately, large portions of spending and effort were neither necessary nor productive. However, it can be hard to differentiate the necessary from the excessive without a working crystal ball or a really good rearview mirror.

I can hazard a guess that if you ask someone on the street what they think of when you mention security, 80% of the population will answer with one of 3 areas, home security, security at work or online security. Security is a specialist field. Even broken up into those three areas, each one is a specialist field of its own. There are specific and detailed things you need to know about home security, online security and security in a place of work. Rarely does a company that deals with one field of security get involved with another field of security. In the same vein, it is very rare that any company handles its own on-site security.

As I continue to reflect on the talk I gave on What Datacenter Operators Can Learn From Rolls Royce (included at the end of this post) at Datacenter Dynamics New York, I realize that the timing of the topic was interesting based on the continued search for Malaysian Airlines MH370 where it was Rolls Royce who announced 3 days after my presentation that MH370 was flying for hours after it disappeared from radar as they were monitoring MH370’s jet engines during flight.