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Issue of May 2003 
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Cover Story: Power Conditioning
Power to Indian companies

How serious and ready are Indian enterprises about power conditioning for its IT infrastructure? And how do they overcome difficulties of poor supply in certain cities? A look at how these issues can be resolved. by Soutiman Das Gupta

The word 'outage' is likely to scare a CTO more than the man-eating shark did in the film Jaws. And why not? An outage in your IT infrastructure will result in loss of productivity, management dissatisfaction, loss of revenue, loss of transactions, and may lead to customer dissatisfaction.

The shocking truth

System downtime may be the result of various factors: the high-tech ones like network failures or hardware/ software crashes, or the natural ones like earthquakes, floods, and fires.

But according to the "Cost of Downtime" survey conducted by Contingency Planning Research Inc., power-related problems were the most frequent reason for outage in an enterprise.

The survey also showed that, power outages took place 25 percent of the time, and power surges/spikes three percent of the time. Together (28 percent), they comprised the most common outages, and were followed by storms, floods, hardware errors, and fire. Network outages occurred only two percent of the time.

This shows that while CIOs/CTOs have been busy creating redundant network architectures with no single point of failure, the aspect of power supply and solutions took a 'bit of a back seat'.

Defining power conditioning

Power conditioning is a well-defined strategy to ensure that an enterprise has continuous power availability, which is clean, steady, and free of irregularities. It also encompasses power redundancy in terms of backup and alternate supply.

Enterprise power conditioning is a subset of Business Continuity Management (BCM). BCM's goal is to provide 100 percent business uptime, of which power conditioning is an important aspect. This is because electricity is the basic necessity to run the hardware and the applications, which enable a business.

Another survey jointly conducted by MAIT, Emerson Network Power (ENP) India, and Feedback Consulting in 325 Indian enterprises showed that over 60 percent firms experienced power disruption more than once a month. And India Inc. could be losing over Rs 20,000 crore annually, in direct losses, due to poor power quality and operating environment related downtime. The final bill for India Inc. would be much higher if the indirect losses are taken into account.

Beyond an UPS

An UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) is the core component of a power conditioning strategy. It has features like the inverter, voltage stabilizer, and EMI/RFI filters. It also has a number of built-in intelligent features, which take care of most of the typical power-related problems (See box: What can go wrong with power?). UPSs can also be managed remotely through browsers. And this provides a lot of flexibility.

But one has to look beyond a UPS in order to deploy a total power conditioning strategy. An enterprise also needs to plan redundancy and backup at various levels of operation. Redundancy should also be built into each zone and into all pieces of equipment. Ground faults and wrong wiring issues have to be dealt with. And the success of the solution has to be reviewed through audits and checks.

Besides, older UPSs do not usually take care of all the power-related problems. For example, a UPS must have an isolation transformer (to protect from EMI/RFI noise) in its output circuit to qualify as a power conditioner.

An ideal power conditioning strategy

An ideal strategy is one that encompasses all power-related problems. In large enterprises, power conditioning is usually the shared responsibility of the Operations Manager and the IT Head. In smaller enterprises, the IT Head should be the one to swing into action.

It is difficult to suggest an ideal strategy since different companies from different verticals have different business and operational needs. But one may use a broad framework.

1. 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.

2. Power from the transfer switch flows into 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.

3. 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.

4. 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. Critical hardware should have dual power grids, so that one acts as failover.

5. The customer also has to evaluate and identify the critical areas for which uptime needs to be enhanced. There may be possibility of distribution faults or some fault in the facility. An enterprise can deploy dual power supplies, dual distribution equipment, and static switches at the load end.

6. 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.

7. 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.

Assessing downtime costs

Manoj John, Industry Manager, Industrial Technologies Practice, Frost & Sullivan (India) feels that the extent of damage to an organization in case of a power outage differs from one company to the other. Downtime cost can be calculated using a formula based on a number of common cost factors which reflect business realities.

Some common cost factors are:

  • User productivity
  • Revenue or transaction impact
  • IT productivity
  • Lost future revenue
  • Market impact
  • Fees/penalties/other charges

In functions like 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.

The MAIT and ENP survey reported that over 50 percent of the respondents mentioned impact on business processes, PCs, and servers as the most severe manifestation of downtime. In today's networked environment, any break in business continuity not only results in monetary loss, but also erodes customer confidence and adversely impacts the image of the organization.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

Cost of downtime survey

MAIT, Emerson Network Power (India), and Feedback Consulting jointly conducted a study to quantify the cost of downtime to the Indian economy. The study was carried out during Aug-Sep 2002, covering 325 Indian firms, over eight locations.

According to the study, India Inc. could be losing over Rs. 20,000 crore annually, in direct losses, due to poor power quality and operating environment related downtime.

Some highlights of the survey:

  • Over 60 percent firms experience power disruption more than once a month.
  • Over 50 percent of the respondents mention impact on business processes, PCs & servers as the most severe manifestation of downtime.
  • Downtime is a crisis situation: While immediate loss of production, idle capacity and time to start the operations again is apparent, it is failing customer expectations and being considered an unreliable supplier that has long-term repercussions.
  • One in ten firms have a latent apprehension that poor quality power and air-conditioning could be 'eating away at their vital equipment reducing their effective life.
  • Downtime due to power and air-conditioning failures considered inevitable: Over 79 percent of the respondents attribute this to unscheduled power cuts and poor power quality.
  • UPS considered most critical as the foundation to developing a network uptime solutions: Over 83 percent of the respondents rated the UPS as extremely critical to network uptime.
  • Over 75 percent of the respondents have invested in back up power quality products, which has helped stem some of the potential business losses.
  • Ensuring continuous customer service is considered the foremost reason for maintaining uptime by 80 percent of the firms: Companies agree investment in this area is critical and prefer branded products.

Power solutions architectures

Power solutions in enterprises can have the following architectures:

Centralized power architecture: In this, an enterprise has centralized power solution architecture. It's typically found in small enterprises where one set or architecture and equipment is deployed at the main location. Conditioned power is distributed to various operational departments.

  • Advantages: Not very expensive to procure and deploy. Easy to maintain.
  • Disadvantage: Not suitable for large enterprises.

Centralized Zonal architecture: An enterprise's infrastructure is divided into divisions/departments like IT, Production, and Packaging. Each has its own power conditioning solution. And each department identifies zones like mission critical and non-mission critical. Each zone is equipped with separate solutions architectures.

  • Advantages: Increases reliability and availability since the solutions in different zones are independent of one another. One zone can function even if another breaks down. Difference in power needs of various types of hardware in different zones can be addressed. In a centralized architecture, it's difficult to differentiate power needs since there is only one equipment setup. Easy to scale.
  • Disadvantages: Costly. Requires dedicated personnel.

Distributed architecture: Separate UPSs for each workstation and server are deployed throughout the company.

  • Advantage: Good for a small company due to low initial cost.
  • Disadvantages: Costly as the number of hardware increases. Low reliability. Not suitable for large enterprises. Low-end UPSs do not have many advanced features like filters, and rectifiers.

Calculating power requirement

To understand how you can calculate the power requirement in your enterprise, let's see how C. Kajwadkar, Vice President, NSE.IT Limited has done the same for the National Stock Exchange (NSE).

"Power requirements for the IT infrastructure are assessed based on advance planning during the inception stages of building the IT infrastructure. This includes power requirement of all servers, PCs, and network equipment. And the requirements are reviewed at least once a year for necessary action," says Kajwadkar.

  • An estimate-model is drawn for the load, based on actual consumption as per equipment datasheets.
  • A factor of safety for the recommendations and providing for future demands including the required backup time is added.
  • Based on these, broad specifications of the UPS requirements are drawn.
  • Backup capacity is calculated based upon the capacity of the batteries.
  • Extra capacity of at least 40 percent is normally provided for future expansion.
  • To ensure availability of power under an acute outage spanning more than the battery back-up time, redundant DG sets of desired capacity are put in place.

Emergency always-on power
Organizations that provide critical services like hospitals and telecoms can subscribe to an always-on power supply connection from the electric company. These power lines ensure availability of power on a continuous basis.

However, this supply may carry bad power, especially if the regular supply to other grids are down. An organization must deploy facilities for backup and deploy a UPS even though it has subscribed to the emergency line.

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