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Issue of November 2004 

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Power conditioning

A power strategy for uninterrupted business

VSNL uses a power conditioning strategy in order to do uninterrupted business across its five nationwide data centers. Here's a look at how the company went about it. by Soutiman Das Gupta

The fundamental requirement when a customer outsources to a data center is that the infrastructure should have all the ingredients for running
on a 24x7 basis.
Sanjay Srivastava, Head Products, Tata Indicom Enterprise Business Unit

"The need for power conditioning at a data center is as basic as the need for breathing to a living being. If you have to ensure that the data center is up and running all the time, you have to ensure that all the associated infrastructure like routers, servers, switches, and air conditioning is drawing power," said Sanjay Srivastava, Head Products, Tata Indicom Enterprise Business Unit.

Owing to the critical nature of the Internet Data Center (IDC) business, VSNL had to guarantee very high levels of uptime to all its nationwide customers. And in order to live up to the SLA promises of uptime at its five data centers, it was necessary that the infrastructure was conducive to offer uninterrupted business.

The company thus decided to adopt a power conditioning strategy and deploy a power conditioning solution that would help keep its business ticking at all times.

Services at VSNL

Since the inception of VSNL's IDC business, there has been a quick growth in the number of Indian companies that chose to outsource their IT needs. This was because it makes good business sense for many organizations to outsource their IT needs to a service provider. And a well-crafted outsourcing strategy can help an organization save costs related to manpower and equipment, and protect the organization from technology obsolescence.

VSNL set up its first data center in Mumbai in 1997. And in the light of the growing need for new enterprise customers, it subsequently built four other data centers at Bangalore, Vashi (Navi Mumbai), Chennai, and Delhi.

Across these IDCs, the company offers a comprehensive suite of Web hosting services. These include shared Web hosting, dedicated Web hosting, co-location hosting services and a series of managed services.

The critical customer

VSNL's customers have very critical needs for infrastructure. Many of them are large organizations like AT&T, NCR, Reuters, LIC, SBI, Yahoo India, and Rediff.

These companies host critical applications, which need to be up and running 24x7 without any downtime.

These companies require hardware/software configurations, multi-server clustering, and access to specific data centers/uplinks and have thus partnered with VSNL.

Currently, 10 percent of VSNL's customers opt for shared hosting, 20 percent for dedicated hosting and the majority—70 percent use co-location hosting services.

"The co-location customers usually focus on and demand superior physical infrastructure like power availability, climate conditioning, connectivity, and security," said Srivastava.

Network uptime is important

"The fundamental requirement when a customer outsources to a data center is that the infrastructure should have all the ingredients for running on a 24x7 basis. Customers need the highest possible uptime without getting into the hassle of managing that infrastructure on their own," explained Srivastava.

A customer's website is the gateway to his business on the internet and offers worldwide potential. This translates to the need for reliable power, temperature and Internet connectivity.

VSNL offers 99.5 percent uptime to customers, which is also a standard component of the Service Level Agreements (SLAs) that the company proposes to its customers.

And for certain customers, the SLA commits an uptime of 99.9 percent. A key observation to be made here is the penalty clause which comes into play if the requisite network uptime is not fulfilled by VSNL.

This could imply enormous revenue losses to the vendor, and thus the criticality of network uptime Solutions for VSNL.

Power conditioning strategy

The most compelling feature of the power conditioning solution was that we had to build an infrastructure better than what the customer would get at its own location
Hari Nair, Technical Director, VSNL International

VSNL decided that the best way to design the power conditioning strategy was to align it with the business strategy.

"We started with a look at the customer needs. We looked at where the customer was on that day, how it would grow, and what would be its expectations in future. Once we defined that, we reached at an estimate of the target market requirements. And the power strategy then fell into place," explained Srivastava.

"We typically defined the size of the market and the profile of the customers. We then set about to define our requirements to support the processes keeping in account SLA promises, and international benchmarking standards like SunTone certifications, which would give confidence to our customers. This creates a good ground for creating a power conditioning strategy," he added.

Solution features

"The most compelling feature of the power conditioning solution was that we had to build an infrastructure better than what the customer would get at its own location. We looked for negligible downtime, basic maintenance capabilities, and a detailed floor plan of the distribution," said Hari Nair, Technical Director, VSNL International.

"We also looked in detail at the power needs at every socket, cable including trunk cables, UPS, transformers, and other equipment. We ensured that all equipment was covered and built enough redundancy at every stage for failover," he added.

After evaluating a number of vendors, VSNL chose Emerson Network Power (India) Pvt. Ltd (ENPIPL). VSNL created a basic architectural design and ENPIL carried out a site study, and implemented the final solution in conjunction with VSNL.

Hardware and the benefits

ENPIPL provided its solution at three of VSNL's data centers. It deployed four 200 kVA UPSs at Mumbai, two 120 kVA UPSs at Chennai, and two 40 kVA UPSs at Delhi.

The solution provides clean and uninterrupted power free of spikes and harmonics with mirror images of the complete power system. This allow online maintenance, since even planned shutdowns for maintenance purposes cannot be considered as uptime.

A configuration feature called Load Bus Synchronization (LBS) allows the redundancy in the form of a mirror image of the complete power system on the lines of internationally accepted practices (Sun Tone Certification). This ensured a consistent flow and kept the facility up 24x7. The solution offered VSNL 99.5 percent uptime across the board.

VSNL has also signed an SLA with ENPIPL that has penalty clauses as precautions.

Documented policy

VSNL uses a documented power conditioning strategy, which is part of the enterprise infrastructure strategy, in order to provide a standardized level of quality across its locations.

"The entire infrastructure strategy is constantly evaluated as a part of an improvement process. Annual reviews are made to track changes. These changes can be driven from the customer, supplier, or the competitor's side," Srivastava said.

In this way the organization takes views from three dimensions of the external world to see if the change will really benefit the customer. And based on this VSNL may change its infrastructure strategy, pricing strategy, or maybe the costing strategy.

In future

VSNL plans to keep expanding its enterprise infrastructure which includes power over the next few months.

"The biggest driver from our perspective is our customers, because at the end of the day they define what they need, which we have to service. Now that business is opening up, a lot of MNCs have come to India, and the existing MNCs want more access and integration with their global infrastructure. Their expectations from us will be high, and we have to match those expectations," explained Srivastava.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

Solution provider view

Shrikant Bapat - Country Champion - Uptime Solutions - Emerson Network Power(India) Pvt. Ltd talks about the most challenging aspect faced when deploying the power conditioning solution

Given the breadth of VSNL's operations, it was critical for VSNL to have a redundant network till the last level. The solution deployed at VSNL incorporated Load Bus Synchronization (LBS) capabilities which allowed redundancy till the least level.

Conventionally, redundancy is limited to the source point, which is till the UPS output. So, if the UPS crashes, the network will also be down. To avoid such mishaps, the solution incorporated LBS capabilities so that there was redundancy right till the server.

The LBS thus provided improvement in maintainability and fault tolerance compared to any other configuration taking care of hyper-critical loads. Coupled with static switches, the Load Bus Synchronization proves to be more reliable as redundancy is brought closer to the load equipment.


<In a nutshell>

The company

VSNL runs five data centers in India and provides hosting and co-location services to various nationwide customers.

The need

In order to provide very high levels of uptime and live up to promises made in the SLAs, the company needed a good power conditioning strategy as a basic need for good infrastructure.

The solution

The company deployed a range of power conditioning solutions and deployed a power conditioning strategy for better business.

The benefits

The solution provides clean and uninterrupted power free of spikes and harmonics with mirror images of the complete power system.

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