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Building power-ful enterprises

Power equipment specifications figure at the bottom of the procurement priority list among many enterprises worldwide, feels Torgny Sandberg, Managing Director, Emerson Network Power-Telecom, South East Asia/India. But in order to heighten sensitivity to customers' needs one must prevent power downtime to help maintain continuity of service. The IT Head should give its enterprise's power solutions a stronger thought and create a definite power solutions strategy. by Soutiman Das Gupta

In what ways do enterprises neglect power supply specifications?

The importance of power supply in enterprise verticals like manufacturing industries, ISPs, Telcos, data centers, and mobile service providers is extremely high. Your reputation and success depends on consistent power for your network. In this case reliability becomes the foundation of your system.

Enterprises try to save money on power equipment and end up with a badly-planned power solution. But if you follow the classical management advice, that a chain is as strong as its weakest link, a weak link in the power solution is the strength of the chain. Subsequently, it is the strength of the total communications system. Don't let the chain break here.

Power equipment procurement costs are approximately five percent of an enterprise's overall IT budget. In my experience, people try to save money on this small percentage of the total package. Often they are unsuccessful and face major operational issues later. There are power outages, backup supply is inadequate, and there has to be frequent breakdown maintenance. Companies lose a lot of manpower and man-hours. A professionally designed and installed power supply solution will definitely minimize any snag.

Where do most enterprises go wrong when planning for a power solution?

In many enterprises the power equipment specifications are at the bottom of the purchase/procurement proposals. Sometimes power specifications for different projects are not even modified or customized to match the real requirements. In many cases telecom operators tend to purchase power equipment independent of the telecom equipment. The specifications should ideally match and sync with actual power requirements. A quick power survey on an annual or a semi-annual basis will help understand the need better.

What are the entities that ensure a consistent and reliable power supply solution?

In any business, network availability is crucial. And network availability depends on the quality and functioning of the hardware and software elements. The functioning of the hardware and software elements in turn depends on the quality of power/electricity. This is an important consideration for IT Heads who promise five nines uptime to their clients. Reliable power supply plays a significant role in keeping the promise.

At the point/gateway where the power enters your enterprise from the electric supply, there needs to be an automatic transfer switch. This is because most companies will have a backup diesel generator set. The transfer switch swaps between the two feeds. You can install a manual transfer switch, but it needs a person to be deployed at the site around the clock. An automatic transfer switch is useful especially in the case of remote locations.

Power from the transfer switch flows in to a surge suppresser. This controls any high power fluctuations which are likely to damage equipment. It has somewhat the same functions as that of a domestic PC spike buster, but on a larger scale.

AC power now passes through an UPS which has a battery backup and automatically switches over to the alternative supply in case of outages. The power is now distributed to various departments and sections of an enterprise through a power distribution cabinet. Some telecom switches and equipment require DC supply. In this case the company needs to set up DC power systems and interfaces.

Cables must be robust and the conduits and pipes must be laid according to safety principles. The embedded AC/DC power supply is also critical. This is the power supply grid present inside servers, switches, and other devices. Although built-in, it still needs observation.

The capability to monitor operations from remote locations has emerged as an important feature for any solution. So all these solutions should allow browser-based monitoring. Information of impending failures like a weak battery bank and alarm conditions which need manual intervention, can be retrieved from anywhere in the world. Some management software can also send SMS and e-mail messages as alerts. The remote monitoring and message delivery functions should be closely integrated with the customer's backend network.

As a part of a complete power solution offering, all the equipment has to be wrapped around by services. Servicing starts right from pre-sales and carries on as a life-long commitment made by the power vendor to its customers.

What areas should an enterprise take into consideration while entering into a service contract with the power vendor?

Enterprises should enter into service contracts with power vendors that take care of preventive and breakdown maintenance of UPSs, DC power equipment, and on-site requisites. The services should include contract maintenance, breakdown services, startup and commissioning, and site testing. It should be applicable on a 24x7x365 basis. It should cover all equipment like UPSs, rectifiers, chargers, static switches, power conditioners, and batteries. The service contract should also specify frequencies for power audits and power quality monitoring.

What power backup strategies should an enterprise adopt?

Redundancy should be built in at each level of power processing from the entry point till the delivery of power into various equipments, and backup. Most enterprises have a backup diesel generator alongside the main power supply. For protection of equipment there are things like AC power interfaces, surge protection, and rectifiers. Batteries act as back up for the rectifiers. In case of power loss the equipment can operate on batteries. And depending on customers' requirements there can be battery backup for one hour, one day, or one week. The capacity of battery backup depends on the customer's needs, criticality of the system, and importance of the applications that run on it.

UPS modules can have dual bus systems. This avoids a single point of failure. A hot standby system ensures another layer of redundancy. Many servers today have dual power feeds which act as fail-over.

What warning signals in an enterprise point to the need for implementing a complete power solution?

Power is such a critical component, that an enterprise should not wait for any warning signal like frequent short circuits or fluctuations to implement a power solution. The solution should have been implemented right before the start of operations. However it’s not too late for running enterprises to start paying greater attention to power solutions.

An organization should work out the cost of downtime as far as critical hardware is concerned. In functions like online ATM (Automated Teller Machine) transactions, mobile telecom, rail reservations, and air reservations, downtime has direct impact on revenue and goodwill. The cost can be calculated by multiplying transaction volume per minute with the number of minutes lost in downtime. This revenue is lost forever.

Enterprises have to be conscious of a high level of service to its customers. This heightened sensitivity to its customers can provide it an edge over competitors.

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