According to a 2005 Berkeley Lab study for the U.S. Department of
Energy’s Office of Electric Transmission and Distribution, power
outages cost the United States more than $80 billion per year.
Momentary interruptions – those lasting five minutes or less – account
for two-thirds of that total. Outages lasting five minutes or less cost
businesses $52 billion versus $26 billion lost in outages lasting five
minutes or longer.
The 2008 Storm Season is Predicted to Bring up to 15 Storms
From Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to the spring storms which have recently pummeled the mid-west with rains and caused widespread flooding, weather related disasters have clearly taken their toll on many US businesses. The bad news is, weather-related power threats will persist and worsen over time as our climate changes from the effects of global warming A 2007 report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says it is likely that intense tropical cyclone activity will increase over the 21st century. These storms will cause power outages that will lead to disruptions to business caused by flood and high winds, disruptions in the water and food supply, loss of property, withdrawals of risk coverage in vulnerable areas by private insurers, damaged crops and population migrations.
Meteorologist William Gray of Colorado State University predicts that activity in the 2008 hurricane season will be “well above average.” Gray has a 20-year track record of remarkably accurate forecasting, so it’s wise to pay heed to his predictions for a volatile 2008 season, which will likely see:
- 15 named tropical storms, versus an average of 9.6
- 9 hurricanes, compared to the average of 5.9
- 4 major hurricanes, versus an average of 2.3
Weather experts cannot predict the exact timing or location of these events, but the Gray’s team at Colorado State University estimates a 69 percent probability that at least one major hurricane will make landfall on the coast this year, versus an average of 52 percent over the last century.
This dispiriting prediction accounts for only one type of threat to business, industry and institutions. Even minor weather-related events can undermine the reliability and longevity of essential IT and facility systems. Consider lightning, for example – a common occurrence in any summer storm. Lightning causes nearly 30 percent of all power outages and wreaks more than $4 to $5 billion in damage a year in the U.S. alone. The widespread blackouts that occurred in South Florida this February were brief, yet affected more than 1 million citizens and businesses.
It gets worse. Detectible power incidents account for only a minority percentage of all damaging and loss-producing power disturbances. Even under normal utility operations – with no storm or lightning in sight – enterprise IT systems could be bombarded daily by conditions that damage sensitive components. Utility power is routinely plagued with power surges, sags, electrical noise, harmonics, load fluctuations, and other interferences. A commercial customer on typical utility power will be subjected to these power anomalies daily.
Power outages tied to natural disasters are rare, according to research from Price Waterhouse Cooper, while outages tied to hardware error account for nearly half of all outages. Hardware errors are often attributed to power problems stemming from power failure, power sages, power surges, brownouts, line noise, high voltage, frequency variation, switching transients and harmonic distortion. Invisible power anomalies can be silent killers – the electronic equivalent of high blood pressure – causing insidious damage to critical IT systems and interruptions in essential enterprise processes.
Consider that even if the average utility supplies 99 percent uptime, a typical facility will still experience 5,256 minutes without power each year. Even with an uninterruptible power system (UPS) in place, critical equipment is likely to suffer 525 minutes of downtime during that period.
The problems and risks are intensifying, for several reasons:
- Computing and networking technologies are becoming ever more sophisticated. Today’s high-density storage devices, blade servers, and network processors use components so miniaturized that they falter and fail under power conditions that earlier-generation equipment could have easily withstood.
- Availability is everything. Information systems are no longer an adjunct support infrastructure, as they were 20 years ago. IT systems are the very core of all business processes. If a mass storage device or server farm goes offline, or critical network connections go down, the enterprise cannot function normally or profitably. Every minute of downtime carries a greater penalty than ever before.
Why Typical Power Protection Strategies Fall Short
Most organizations of any size have backup generators that provide emergency power within 10-30 seconds and surge suppressors that absorb potentially harmful electrical spikes, such as from lightning. However, these are band-aid solutions for systemic problems:
- Backup generators address the most obvious power problem – complete loss of utility power – but provide no protection against the other power disturbances. It’s not enough to switch to backup power in 10 seconds, when that interval is enough to completely reset a server that runs critical enterprise applications, or drop out networking systems causing failure to deliver up to SLAs (service level agreements). Even a brief power disturbance can trigger events that result in hours of downtime before equipment can be restarted.
- Surge suppressors address the power surges, while having no effect on under-voltage events or harmonic voltage conditions that can erode equipment health over time, or cause unexpected equipment lockup.
Uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) augment and supersede these power-protection strategies. UPSs can protect equipment from the full range of potential power anomalies – not just outages, surges and spikes.
Take a Stand with Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Solutions
Why tempt Mother Nature? From hurricanes to heat waves, the risks of unstable utility power are here, but you can protect valuable equipment, applications and data.
No matter the size of the business, considering any IT equipment location as a data center is an important first step in developing a proactive strategy to combat the risks of power outages. There are many solutions available today designed to mitigate the risks, addressing an organization’s power quality needs with a seamless, integrated solution.
Uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) condition incoming power to smooth out the sags and spikes that are all too common on the grid and other primary sources of power. If utility power goes out altogether, there is no delay transferring to backup power, either UPS batteries or an auxiliary generator. UPSs may range from 300 VA to more than 4,000 kVA, making it possible to create a power protection solution to suit virtually any application, from the home office desktop to large industrial facilities, enterprise data centers and hospital systems.
UPSs go beyond backup generators and surge suppressors to protect businesses in any commercial environment. UPSs protect your IT systems in two ways. A UPS conditions incoming power to smooth out the sags and spikes that are all too common on the grid and other primary sources of power. A UPS also provides ride-through power to cover for sags or short-term outages (15-30 minutes, typically), by drawing power from batteries. If backup generators or other AC sources are available, the UPS provides short term protection until the generator comes on line, then cleans up the power coming from the generator.
Extended runtime battery modules with UPSs provide additional “backup” power to cover for longer-term outages (say, 30 minutes to several hours) — enough time to gracefully shut down systems, or possibly ride out short to moderate outages. If you have a generator, choosing a UPS that offers strong generator compatibility can prevent unwarranted downtime during long outages.
Power management software provides an intuitive interface to remotely monitor UPS and battery performance, establish prioritized shutdown of devices and applications, test all networked UPSs, analyze trends and network conditions, and stay informed via pager and e-mail.
Network enabled connectivity options allow administrators to monitor and manage UPSs from anywhere, over the company’s LAN or the Web. UPSs can also communicate with building/network management systems, environmental monitoring probes, relay contact devices and more.
Have Confidence in Your Power Protection Strategy
Many organizations that rely on electronic systems are not fully aware of the potential for power problems until they happen – and then it’s too late. By identifying and resolving the risks of power outages before they occur, it is possible to limit the devastating consequences of unplanned downtime or equipment failure.
Do you know where your business stands on critical power-related issues? Are power specifications required by your electronic systems being met? Is the internal power infrastructure delivering up to specs? Conducting a power quality audit can identify problems that could undermine critical electronic systems – and identify the right power protection strategies for your needs. Once a strategy is in place, it is important to continue to monitor the operating environment to ensure that power needs are consistently being met.
From manufacturing systems to information systems, communication networks to physical transport networks, across all types of equipment and industries... whatever the infrastructure in question, proactive planning and the right UPS can prevent the potentially devastating consequences of power disturbances. This storm season, plan a power strategy that brings you peace of mind, before lightning strikes and the power goes out.
Chris Loeffler is a global applications manager for Eaton Corporation, specializing in data center power solutions and services. With more than 17 years of experience in the UPS industry, he has overseen products including Eaton’s latest data center UPS product, the Powerware BladeUPS. Eaton Corporation is a diversified industrial manufacturer with 2007 sales of $13.0 billion. Eaton has 70,000 employees and sells products to customers in more than 150 countries. For more information, visit www.eaton.com/powerware.
"Appeared in DRJ's Summer 2008 Issue"