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26 Feb 2018

UPS maintenance: crucial health-checks keeping your data centre out of intensive care

Leo Craig

With even the most cautious estimates suggesting that downtime at data centres can cost more than £5,000 per minute – the equivalent of up to an eye-watering £300,000 per hour or £7.2 million a day – it’s impossible to understate the value of a reliable uninterruptible power supply (UPS) system. The UPS is your first line of defence against power spikes, sags, and surges, along with the more damaging downtime and power outages that ultimately impact negatively on your bottom line and your customers’ experience.

According to Centrica’s October 2017 ‘UK Resilience Report’, a staggering 81% of UK businesses have experienced at least one harmful power-related failure in the past year. But perhaps even more shocking is the fact that more than two-thirds of downtime incidents at data centres could probably be prevented in the first place, with poorly planned maintenance highlighted as one of the principal causes.

The good news is that by taking just a few relatively simple steps, data centre businesses can mitigate against such unwanted and seemingly avoidable downtime before it ever happens.

Why is UPS maintenance important for data centres?

While data centres will usually have maintenance plans in place for core equipment such as computers and servers, similar consideration should also be given to the upkeep of its UPS too.

Environments such as a busy data centre rely on a resilient power supply that its UPS helps provide, so it makes sense in terms of both productivity and profitability to proactively plan ahead to ensure your system operates at peak performance.

UPS systems are incredibly complex devices, and how they are maintained over the course of their lifetime will undoubtedly impact on their reliability. Consumables such as batteries or capacitors will succumb to natural wear and tear and obviously need replacing from time to time. But taking a more hands-on approach to overall UPS maintenance will help keep your system in the best of health and fighting fit for a future of protecting your essential power supply.

What should a data centre’s UPS maintenance plan include?

A UPS system should be seen as the ultimate insurance policy for your data centre – that must-have safeguard to protect against any damaging downtime. Having a robust maintenance plan or agreement for your actual UPS should be viewed in a similar way – a contingency that gives you long-lasting reassurance and peace of mind.

There are no guarantees that a data centre UPS will never experience a failure. But having a comprehensive maintenance plan in place will boost your system’s resilience and reliability. Not only does this minimise the risk of a critical issue occurring, it maximises the overall efficiency and ongoing performance of your equipment, and also helps to increase its lifespan. And if the worst does ever happen, it can ensure you overcome downtime as quickly and pain-free as possible.

A solid UPS maintenance plan should give you greater coverage than a standard product warranty provides with priority access to support from trusted technical experts. Most importantly it should clearly spell-out response times in cases of emergency – with Riello UPS, data centres have the flexibility to choose from tailored options including a response in 12 working hours, 8 working hours, or 4 clock hours, with these times guaranteed as part of our standard service level agreements.

Another crucial point to cover in a data centre UPS maintenance agreement is the availability of spare and replacement parts. Unlike many other manufacturers, Riello UPS can dispatch parts to customers within 24 hours, often on the same day or even within a few hours of a problem being reported, thanks to our network of strategically-placed warehouses throughout the UK, which stores significant volumes of both spares and complete UPS units.

Maintenance agreements should also include at least one Preventative Maintenance Visit (PMV) a year by a fully-trained and certified UPS engineer. This site visit sees the engineer inspect all components of the UPS for signs of damage or corrosion, during which they can also proactively identify any consumables like batteries or capacitors which may require imminent replacement before they reach the critical stage.

The vast majority of problems arising with UPS units, including electrical component failure, are heat-related. For example, if a connection point isn’t completely tightened, it will begin overheating over time and, in all likelihood, eventually fail.

Physically checking every connection is a time-consuming and laborious job for even the most experienced, competent technician to carry out. That’s why our PMVs incorporate cutting-edge thermal imaging technology that quickly and accurately highlight potential “hot spots” undetectable to even the human eye.

Maintenance agreements should also include regular firmware updates so your system is always running the most up-to-date software. Some of the most comprehensive UPS maintenance plans will even feature a remote monitoring service such as our Riello Connect, where trained and qualified technicians off-site are continually keeping tabs on your UPS and battery performance. This means potential problems can be identified and solved way before they become a business-critical issue which could cause your data centre to go offline.

What are the main benefits of a proactive UPS maintenance plan

So, we now understand more about why proactive maintenance for UPS systems is such a crucial consideration for data centre managers, let’s take a look at some of the long-term benefits your business will gain from adopting a proactive “review today, protect tomorrow” approach.

Minimise downtime – while downtime cannot be eliminated completely, keeping a close eye on the upkeep of your UPS can reduce the risk of critical system failure. Carrying out regular health-checks will help identify and fix potential problems before they become a major issue.

Improved energy efficiency and reduced costs – with complex equipment such as UPS units, regular servicing and maintenance will help keep the system operating at optimum performance. A UPS that has been proactively well-maintained requires less power to run than a poorly preserved system, saving you crucial running costs and cutting energy waste.

Better future-planning and budgeting – unexpected systems failures are incredibly costly and disruptive to data centres, not just in terms of the damaging downtime incurred but also the potential additional expense of repairing or replacing faulty equipment. Rigorous maintenance and planning will enable you to schedule any necessary refurbishments or the replacement of consumables such as batteries into future budgets. Taking such a practical approach to the upkeep of your UPS unit can also protect the long-term value of your vital asset – the lifespan of many crucial UPS parts and components can be extended by anything from 25-50% if properly maintained in the appropriate environment.

It’s clear to see that preventative maintenance of your UPS system can often pay for itself in the long-run by mitigating against unwanted or unexpected downtime. Now you understand the importance of maintaining your UPS unit, our next article will tackle some of the key questions you should ask a service provider to make sure you get the best UPS maintenance plan for your particular data centre.

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