Inside Networks: Are we aiming too high?

In this feature-length article for Inside Networks magazine, Leo Craig explores the move to energy efficient UPS.

In our Information Age where data is doubling every year, processing and storage capacity rely on the invaluable protection offered by uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems.

Inside Networks magazine logo including URLWith many data centres approaching a decade of service, the time is ripe for an equipment overhaul, including the power protection equipment. And as technology advances, so too does energy efficiency. With increased moves towards modular configurations, great strides have been made in terms of energy efficient UPS.

However, as Riello UPS General Manager Leo Craig explains to Inside Networks magazine, some of the efficiency ratings and performance capabilities need to be taken with a “pinch of salt”.

Here’s the full text of Leo’s in-depth article.

Are We Aiming Too High?

We live in a data driven economy where information flows around us in our everyday lives – both at home and at work.

The growth of digital platforms, products and services continues at an exponential rate hand in hand with the increased use of the internet, computing and mobile communications.

Consider this – 90% of all data in the world has been created in the last two years. We are living in an information society and the trend is only just beginning. Some experts say that data will continue to double in size every two years and could even reach more than 44 zettabytes by 2020.

Rate Of Change

The digital economy is developing at a rapid pace. In the UK, a recent Tech Nation report revealed that digital tech industries are growing 32% faster than the national average of the rest of the economy. Indeed, this growth is mirrored in countries across the globe.

So what harbours all of this important data? A report by Intellect/TechUK states: “Data centres are rapidly becoming the only physical entities that anchor the digital economy to a geographical location and are the engine rooms of the knowledge economy”.

It adds that data centres should be regarded as one of the key utilities of the 21st century along with energy and water and must be recognised as a key technology.

As the role of the modern data centre becomes more significant in a data driven society, the role of the uninterruptible power supply (UPS) also becomes more central.

In a power cut, the UPS’s role is clear. Kicking into action to provide instantaneous power in milliseconds. Its role extends of course, by correcting power problems like surges, sags and spikes, which are all becoming more commonplace with general instability of power on the grid.

It’s unlikely that this instability on the mains frequency will ease anytime soon as our high demand for power continues to put pressure on energy infrastructure. From backing up millions of pounds of online transactions for a multinational bank to protecting highly sensitive data for police and local authorities, the UPS has a vital part to play in the data centre environment.

By protecting against power problems and ensuring continuity in data centres, it guarantees the smooth business operation of so many organisations across the world. Without a UPS, this data could be lost at times of blackout or when there are problems on the power grid.

Time For A Reality Check?

Many data centres are approaching more than 10 years of service and operators are looking to replace equipment with more energy efficient products.

In any mission-critical environment, selecting an energy efficient UPS system that will save money on energy costs is becoming as important as resilience and continued uptime.

But choosing the most efficient, reliable product for each individual application can be a minefield, with marketers using smoke and mirrors to make their offering appear to tick all the efficiency boxes. There are various lists on the market that rate products by their efficiency levels, but you have to ask how achievable some of the targets are in a real environment.

If you have a standalone capacity UPS system, for example, best practice is to run it to around 80% utilisation, leaving some head room for demand surges and load changes. If you’re running a parallel redundant system, then this figure falls to 40% load on each UPS.

If you compare best practice to real-world figures then it’s more like 60-70% for a capacity system and 25-35% for a parallel. This is because when UPS are sized initially, everyone allows for expansion, which rarely happens short-term and sometimes not even in the long-term.

Nobody, therefore, runs a UPS at 100% load. It’s bad practice and very risky if you consider that a slight increase in load will put the UPS into bypass and leave the load unprotected.

Loading Up

This is where some targets fall down as efficiency levels can vary from 93% efficiency at 25% load and 94.5% efficiency at 50% load, right up to 95% at 75-100% load.

Of course, most manufacturers design their UPS to work in real life situations. They design the UPS to have maximum efficiency between 20 and 80%, with the efficiency slightly dropping at 100% because a UPS should not be run at maximum load.

Therefore, many UPS manufacturers not only meet, but actually exceed, the 25-75% efficiency requirements but just miss the 100% target because a UPS is designed to give high efficiency at low loads.

Checking out lists showing efficient products can be a good starting point but should be treated with some caution. It’s always advisable to carry out further investigations with the potential UPS manufacturer.

Ask for a copy of the efficiency test results, or even better, if a large UPS system is being purchased, insist on a factory acceptance test, where you can see for yourself the efficiency figures being proved.

If you find that the system does not perform to the published figures, then you can address this directly with the manufacturer. A 2% difference in efficiency figures can have a massive impact and that’s without taking into consideration the addition to the cooling bill.

Modular technology is driving efficiencies in the UPS field because of the ability to easily scale power up and down to suit the load. A UPS module can be slotted into a UPS cabinet as required, saving on capital expenditure and maximising efficiency.

Efficiency levels of modular UPS systems can reach as high as 96.5%, even at low loads of 20%. It is this type of UPS that is becoming more popular as businesses look for bespoke solutions that offer the highest efficiency and result in cost savings.

Looking Into The Digital Future

We are just at the start of a life-changing trend in digital where a data-driven economy will continue to expand. Playing a central part in this is the data centre storing this information and, of course, the UPS protecting it.

Whilst efficiency lists are worth reviewing, they should be taken with a pinch of salt, as the reality of a working UPS in an environment can mean some targets are not achievable.

The best route is essentially checking directly with the manufacturer to ensure the UPS is the right solution for the particular application. Where possible, choosing new technology such as modular will also go some way in driving efficiencies to another level.