Magazine Article | August 14, 2009

Hard Lessons Taught This ISP The Value Of Extended Power Supply

An Internet service provider in Houston has learned through experience that uninterruptible power supplies (UPSs) can make the difference between performance and mea culpas.

Business Solutions, September 2009
When you live in Houston, you have to make peace with the storms sweeping off the Gulf of Mexico and wreaking havoc. That means learning to be prepared for power outages. That is a lesson Phonoscope, an ISP that serves the counties surrounding Houston in southeast Texas, learned the hard way.

When tropical storm Allison hit in 2001, the provider wasn’t using UPSs on its edge equipment, and that meant downtime during the power outages that rolled through the region in the wake of the storm. Nathan Jackson, who is part of Phonoscope’s Tier 2 Network Support staff, says the power outages surrounding Allison were a turning point for the small business. “After the storms, we immediately started looking for a solution,” says Jackson. “From then on, we made UPS standard on all our equipment, regardless of the size of the customer.”

The ISP researched its options — it was looking for a rack-mountable UPS that was affordable and a vendor that offered strong support since power was not Phonoscope’s core business focus. It landed on the Para Systems Minuteman line of UPSs and today uses several Minuteman products both on its own equipment and at customer sites. “We provide wide area network [WAN] and Internet service throughout the Houston region, and we can’t depend on office power sources,” explains Jackson. Typically, the ISP installs a rack-mount Minuteman UPS with its own switches in the customer’s telecommunication closet. “Even though most of those end users don’t know we do this and may not know their service is up because their own equipment is down, the UPSs help us make our service more seamless.”

Advantages Of UPS Extend Beyond Customers
The benefits of layering a UPS system on its equipment stretch beyond 100% uptime for customers, says Jackson. It saves the ISP from spending valuable technician and support time dealing with the hiccups caused by power outages, and it builds in a comfort zone when it is time to deal with catastrophes such as hurricanes and violent tropical storms. “We typically use the Minuteman E1000RM2U, so we have about 3.5 hours of uptime if something does go wrong,” explains Jackson. “That gives us a couple hours to find the resources we need and get that equipment to sites that can be up to 2 hours away.”

Jackson explained that some of its customers do have strict availability requirements for their Internet/WAN service (e.g. Halliburton, a massive energy company, and local government clients). “We handle services for a lot of county and municipal offices, which are equipped for emergency situations and need reliable Internet access during emergencies.” That makes correctly configuring the UPSs at each customer site imperative for Phonoscope. “We have to determine the load or wattage of our equipment that will be drawing power off the UPS, and that can be tricky,” says Jackson.

The ISP depends on Minuteman’s online runtime calculator to help find the right product match, especially when dealing with large customers that have more power demands due to larger service needs. “There have been occasions where we weren’t familiar with what kind of UPS we needed, and Minuteman has come and helped us out,” says Jackson. Phonoscope enjoys a good relationship with the vendor, taking advantage of onsite training and 24-hour support. The end result has been worth the time invested into learning about extended power supplies, with the UPSs performing well by handling the random power outage, but also in the intense and unstable power environment that surrounds hurricanes such as Hurricane Ike, which hit Houston in 2008.