Disaster recovery – is your business’ power supply ready?

When disaster strikes it is always better to be safe than sorry by ensuring you have strategic backup plans in place

July 2, 2010

When disaster strikes it is always better to be safe than sorry by ensuring you have strategic backup plans in place. It is vital that your business is fully prepared for events that will potentially disrupt the power supply and impact your company, such as the upcoming sporting event. With all of the extra demand on our already strained power utility, organisations need to ensure that they have taken steps to prepare themselves for what will surely be a taxing time in terms of power.

During the upcoming sporting event our country will play host to somewhere in the region of half a million tourists, and all of these extra people will be using additional electricity. Not to mention the hotels that they are staying at, and the bars and restaurants they will be visiting, will also need to use extra power to cater for these visitors.

“All of this points to the fact that we will, in all probability, experience power issues during the upcoming sporting event,” says Jan Vorster, APC Product Specialist at DCC. “However when we weigh up the huge benefits that hosting such an event will have for our country, the power issues we may experience are a small price to pay, and we need to do our bit to help Eskom deal with demand. There are several contingencies that can be put in place to ensure that any ‘niggles’ in the power supply will not have a dramatic impact on everyday business life.”

“Companies must always be prepared for any potential power issues caused by natural disasters or major events. These occurrences highlight the importance of the backing up of computers, networks and other mission-critical areas of the business,” says Gina Santos, distribution account manager for Southern Africa at APC by Schneider Electric.

“Power problems have a significant impact, both in terms of damage to hardware and the loss of data. This is especially true for individuals and small to medium businesses (SMBs) who may not have taken the time to prepare a disaster plan to combat this type of issue.”

Fortunately, according to Santos and Vorster, there are a number of steps that users can take to better plan and safeguard all electrical equipment within the home and office environment.

Step 1: Dealing with power surges

People are well aware of the dangers of power surges, as these can literally fry electronic equipment, causing it to fail and disrupt business. However brown outs are more insidious, forcing equipment to work harder on less power and ultimately shortening the lifespan of these products. They can also cause corrupted data, something which can be detrimental to business.

The first step is to start with AC line surge protection. A power surge can destroy the sensitive electrical circuitry in servers, modems and telephones, while reduced voltage output that causes sags along AC power lines can result in data glitches, hardware failure and unexpected system crashes. This usually happens when utilities are managing high electricity demand and is often accompanied by an instantaneous increase in voltage called a “spike”.

“At the very least, all important electronics should be safeguarded by surge protectors with low let-through voltage ratings, to even out the fluctuations in electricity,” Santos says. “Regular outlet strips aren’t helpful unless they contain a surge suppression capability.”

The next step is to close off any possible entry for surges, including any connection leading into the unit, such as AC, network serial or phone lines, by selecting a surge protector with telephone/data/line/coax protection.

Step 2: Upgrading UPS systems

“Looking at runtime, the next step is to consider those critical devices that would benefit from continued operation during an outage. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) provides battery-supplied backup power during a blackout and units can be sized according to the amount of VA/watts required to keep these devices up and running,” add Santos.

Many businesses already have a UPS in place to deal with times when power surges or goes down. But with a higher demand on our energy we can expect power to be out for longer than usual, and organisations may want to look at upgrading these systems to give longer standby times, or to one that will offer autonomy in terms of run time and will allow people to continue working.

Computer users can further benefit from the use of power management software, which monitors the quality of power entering the user’s building, keeps a log of power events, and notifies the user if any preset threshold has been reached. Connected to a UPS, this software also provides the ability to automatically and safely shut down operating systems and certain running applications, as well as save any data “in progress”.

Step 3: Make sure UPS has built in intelligence Any UPS system can only be truly useful if it is reliable and prevents power problems from interfering with electronic equipment.

“This means that UPS equipment needs to have built in intelligence that will give accurate readings of how long the battery will last for,” adds Vorster.

“Intelligent UPS systems also provide failsafe technology, by automatically shutting down systems when power failures last beyond the power capability of the equipment. This will prevent problems further down the line should power outages last longer than expected, and will save vital equipment.”

Step 4: Ensuring server rooms do not overheat Typically, when server rooms are running on a UPS, the air conditioning systems are not connected. If a business has a large server environment, all of the equipment running in an un-cooled environment can cause overheating.

Overheating in a server room can be catastrophic, leading to equipment failure, corrupt or lost data and a compromising of the entire environment that forms the backbone of modern businesses.

To save businesses from this costly problem, organisations need to ensure that when power fails, they have a backup system that will keep air conditioners and cooling systems running at a level that will prevent overheating.

Step 5: Managing remote sites effectively Remote sites, especially those in rural areas, are at great risk of falling victim to power outages. It is essential to be able to remotely manage UPS systems in these areas to ensure that power management remains efficient and effective.

UPS systems with built in PDU capability enable administrators or IT managers to switch the system on or off from a remote desktop, and allow for the remote shutdown not only of power, but also of services and appliances.

This can save vital equipment as well as time and money required to go out to these sites and fix failed equipment.

Finally, compatibility is another major consideration as the information technology industry, and subsequently the number of vendors, continues to grow. “Select a vendor that is able to integrate a wide array of desktop operating systems, network management tools and software applications, as well as a variety of device plug types, data line connectors and voltage requirements,” Santos adds.

“Dealing with these power problems as businesses, and taking the necessary steps to prevent these issues from interrupting the running of our organisations, will help to ensure that the effects will be minimised during times of possible power surges or outages,” Vorster concludes.