Guest Column | March 12, 2014

Business Continuity 101: How To Get Back To Business

Business Continuity 101

By John Collins, Product Line Manager, Eaton

10 Tips to Avoid Costly Downtime in Today’s Data Center

Despite their best efforts to achieve “five nines” availability, businesses remain vulnerable to a variety of threats, including issues with electrical power systems. Data centers rely on a continuous supply of clean electricity and anything from a subtle power system design flaw to a failure in the electrical grid can bring down even the most modern and sophisticated data center.                

Fortunately, organizations can significantly reduce their exposure to power-related downtime by adopting proven changes to their business processes and electrical power system management practices. Outlined are 10 underutilized practices for building and maintaining a highly available data center power infrastructure.

  1. Break down organizational barriers. Establish clearly defined and documented procedures for how and when information technology (IT) and facility managers consult with one another before implementing data center modifications.
  2. Don’t trade long-term risk for short-term savings. Executives with decision-making authority over a data center construction or renovation project should carefully scrutinize the choices that design engineers, line managers, and contractors are making to ensure that no one trades long-term risk for short-term savings. They should also clearly communicate the importance of adhering to original operating specifications, even if it means spending a little more during the construction process.
  3. Adopt standardized facilities work processes. Facilities departments should take steps to develop standardized, documented processes. Training and descriptive documents should readily accessible. Performing essential activities in consistent, routine ways can significantly lower the likelihood of power and cooling breakdowns while simultaneously increasing the productivity of facilities technicians.
  4. When evaluating power system components, consider ease of repair and reliability. Look for products that are both highly reliable and both safely and quickly repairable. In particular, carefully investigate how swiftly and effectively a given power system manufacturer can service its products. How many service engineers does the manufacturer employ, where are they stationed, and how rapidly can they be on site after an outage? Do they have access to escalation resources if they can’t solve a problem themselves? How available are critical parts? Even the most well-made and reliable power system may ultimately deliver poor availability if its manufacturer can’t dispatch properly trained and equipped service personnel promptly after a breakdown.
  5. Implement enterprise-wide monitoring and proactive diagnostics. The latest enterprise management products can help businesses monitor and manage mission-critical equipment, including power, environmental, and life/safety systems. But even the best software does little good if it doesn’t warn of negative trends, or if it’s not consulted diligently. So while deploying power system monitoring and diagnostic software is an important start, facilities departments must also ensure that they have disciplined work processes in place for consulting that software and responding swiftly to signs of danger.
  6. Create holistic contingency plans. IT and facilities groups have direct control over many of the problems that can bring down a data center. But even the most well-designed and carefully constructed facility is vulnerable to problems beyond an organization’s control. Businesses must think comprehensively about external issues that could impact their data centers, and carefully weigh the costs and benefits of preparing for them. For example, stockpiling enough diesel fuel and water for chillers for five days instead of two may be expensive, but it’s significantly less costly than three days of downtime. When it comes to contingency planning, “hope for the best but expect the worst” is a sound rule of thumb.
  7. Ensure a safe work environment. Arc flash events merit serious attention from data center professionals. To reduce the frequency, severity and harmfulness of arc flashes, it’s important to:
  • Perform a hazard analysis, using expert technicians and analysts.
  • Reduce available fault current, both in design and in practice.
  • Shorten clearing time.
  • Adopt remote operation.
  • Predict and prevent faults.
  • Redirect blast energy.
  1. Adopt a power system topology appropriate to your requirements. Power system topology has a major impact on procurement costs, operational expenses, reliability, and average repair times. There is no standard answer when it comes to selecting a power system topology. Organizations should match their power system topology to their particular circumstances and needs, which are mainly driven by the criticality of the IT applications the data center houses.
  2. Replace outdated equipment. Replacing older uninterruptible power systems (UPSs) with newer models is a low-risk, relatively low-cost way to boost reliability and operating efficiency. In fact, many utilities will offer rebate programs to offset the cost of installing the new UPS to encourage data center operators to make the energy saving replacement. This same opportunity exists in other parts of the data center as well, especially in airflow management and cooling. Using variable speed drives and implementing LED lighting are also practical ways to save energy without decreasing reliability.
  3. Audit your power systems. Audit your power systems thoroughly and regularly; consider using a third-party to help with this vital task. Update any building drawings, schematics, operating manuals as facilities equipment is replaced or upgraded.

Maintaining availability in today’s complex data centers is more difficult and more strategically vital than ever — especially considering global economics, sustainability pressures and an aging and often decreasing workforce. When it comes to mitigating exposure to downtime, it’s important that resellers understand the proper balance between preventative maintenance, contingency planning and, when necessary, incremental investments in new hardware or software.

For more information on Eaton, including power system audits, visit