More UPS, less downs

In data center upgrade planning, backup power is often among the last considerations and the first budget item redlined. Many companies purchase an uninterruptible power system (UPS) only as they add equipment — what we call a segmented approach. Before long, data center managers can find themselves with an inefficient power system that is difficult to maintain and daunting to improve, yet doing so can offer big returns.

UPSs have a five- to seven-year life span, and the older they are, the less efficient they tend to be. Decentralized UPS installations tend to leave significant stranded capacity and result in more UPSs than needed. Consolidation reclaims that waste and makes better use of what you have.

UPSs drain energy in a number of ways. First, they are often not used to their full capacity, leading to more UPSs than required, and second, the increased heat produced by the additional power systems and the inefficiency of older systems often necessitates additional cooling solutions. It’s easy to see how UPS consolidation can help companies realize significant cost savings.

Related story: Cisco fleshes out its data centre switch fabric story

So, when does your company consider UPS consolidation? Once you have five to seven UPSs in the data center, it is worth evaluating your options. You may, in fact, be able to get down to one or two UPSs. Of course, there are a few things to think about before you seriously consider UPS consolidation:

The dollar return:
Determine your target return on investment (ROI) and when those savings need to be realized, whether it’s in one year or three, for example.

The company’s future: What are your company’s growth prospects over the next five years? Will it remain about the size it is today, or could it grow rapidly? Does it plan to open other locations? Considering your company’s future can be key in determining which UPS solution to implement. A legacy UPS may suffice if prospects indicate minimal or very predictable growth of computing requirements, while a scalable, modular UPS will maximize utilization percentages and may prove more economical when an organization expects to grow significantly.

The appropriate runtime: After a power interruption, do you want the data center to run for 10 minutes, an hour, longer? Consider the batteries and space they will take to achieve that runtime. Also prioritize which equipment is essential to business operations and which can be shut down to conserve energy for more critical systems.

The green factor: Is going green an important part of your corporate culture? UPS consolidation can complement a larger plan to green technology which may ease management buy-in.

The data crunch: How important are metrics to your company? When you consolidate UPSs you can illustrate, in a detailed manner, how specific devices are utilizing energy and identify appropriate solutions, whether those involve shutting down nonessential equipment or determining which of your servers is least efficient for potential replacement. You can also include power strips that warn you when equipment is drawing too much energy.

Real world implementation

Admittedly, the UPS consolidation movement hasn’t generated as much media excitement as server virtualization, green IT or cloud computing. However, while not as glamorous, it can help your company realize cost savings and improve business continuity during power outages.

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When NAR’s IT team sought to green their data center through server virtualization and other strategies, UPS consolidation wasn’t their first consideration. However, because of its potential to increase energy efficiency, they quickly realized it would be a viable solution.

With the help of CDW, NAR consolidated its data center down from 20 racks of servers, storage, network and UPS equipment to seven and realized $50,000 annually in cost savings. They also saw further cost reduction in cooling load because the consolidated UPS did not produce nearly as much heat as their former solution.

UPS consolidation can be a do-it-yourself solution, but not for everyone. If you are unfamiliar with the technology, consult an expert — often, your solutions provider can provide all the assistance needed to ensure a successful project.

UPS consolidation is an especially effective solution for companies that use Power over Ethernet (PoE) or blade servers. Both of these draw more energy than conventional technologies and consolidating UPSs can be a good way to reign in energy usage.

Whatever your environment, consider power management solutions in your data center improvement plans. UPS consolidation, while not the most exciting solution, can deliver huge cost savings when implemented correctly.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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