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Reaping the rewards of remote UPS monitoring

UPS

With Covid-19 restrictions likely to remain in place for weeks or even months to come, Riello UPS business development manager Chris Cutler explains why remote UPS monitoring remains more important than ever.

For many businesses, 2020 marked what is likely to become a permanent shift from analogue to digital, with the cloud becoming the key tool in keeping teams connected.

Data centre operators have demonstrated incredible adaptability and resilience meeting this rising demand during the coronavirus crisis, as companies and communities have become increasingly reliant on online solutions in both their professional and personal lives. The sector has had to do all this while coping with reduced staffing levels, complying with ever-changing government guidance, and committing to making their facilities Covid-secure.

It’s likely that restricted site access, social distancing, and other safety precautions are here to stay, in the short-to-medium term at the very least.

Limited physical access to sites makes the ability to remotely monitor crucial infrastructure and equipment almost priceless. For the essential UPS systems safeguarding data centres from damaging downtime, cloud-based remote monitoring provides the equivalent protection of having a ‘virtual’ power engineer onsite round the clock keeping watch of your ultimate insurance policy.

UPS monitoring: The basics

The most basic form of monitoring is based on voltage-free (also known as dry) contacts in the guise of a set of terminals on the UPS or fitted using a slot-in accessory card. It provides binary ‘true/not true’ information to simple statements. In terms of a UPS, that could be ‘is there a mains failure?’ or ‘is the UPS running on battery?’.

Whilst this may suffice for a small office or workshop, mission-critical settings like a data centre calls for a far more sophisticated network-based approach, either locally using ethernet connections or over the internet.

The first method incorporates an RS-232 connection to provide single-ended signalling, a relatively simple yet resilient approach. Then there’s Modbus, the open protocol that’s become the most common way of connecting industrial electronic devices. It enables serial communication from a single RS-232 or RS-485 connector and allows for the creation of a hierarchy on the network.

Similarly, there’s Profibus, a faster version of Modbus, which is increasingly used to monitor automation technology.

The final option is ideal for advanced data centre UPS monitoring. You can equip your UPS systems with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) capabilities. In layman’s terms, this allows you to monitor and even control the UPS remotely from a central location.

How does this work in practice? Each UPS on your network gets fitted with an adapter that connects it to management software. This means the UPS can ‘talk’ (send information and transmit data) and ‘listen’ (receive external commands). So, in the case of the former, it would be something like an alarm triggering a fault message. While the latter would be initiating system shutdown scripts when a power failure occurs.

Round the clock protection

A cloud-based SNMP remote monitoring service links into a remote service centre manned 24/7 by highly trained technical engineers. All communications between the UPSs on your network and the service centre are SSL encrypted for security.

Most uninterruptible power supplies these days will perform a range of automated tests every 24 hours, while the service centre also remotely polls the UPS at regular intervals (i.e. daily or weekly). If there’s a significant change to the operating conditions, for example a mains power failure, overload, or a fault with the UPS itself, alarms will trigger immediately.

When this happens, the remote monitoring software automatically sends email or SMS notifications to key personnel and first responders, as well as alerting the service centre so engineers can carry out further remote diagnostics and drill deeper into the problem.

If needs be, the service centre arranges for field engineers to attend site armed with the correct parts to fix the issue. And with the most serious faults, they can initiate emergency shutdown scripts for all connected devices.

Under normal day-to-day operating conditions, the service centre and data centre staff can interrogate historical alarm logs and statuses to produce informative performance reports.

Remote monitoring rewards

For data centre operators, remote monitoring of their uninterruptible power supplies is a no-brainer as it reduces the risk of them suffering a failure that could lead to damaging service downtime.

The first benefit is obvious. If something goes wrong with your UPS, you know about it immediately thanks to the automated notifications that trigger when there’s a fault. You aren’t left waiting for onsite staff to see or hear the alarm.

Just think if something goes wrong outside of normal working hours or at an unmanned location – how long will it take for someone to physically notice the issue? Remote monitoring enables you – and your service centre – to quickly spring into action and get the fault fixed.

This leads to the second advantage. You’re aware there’s an alarm, but what’s really gone wrong? By remotely interrogating the UPS, engineers in the service centre can analyse valuable information that allows them to make an informed diagnosis of the problem. In turn, the engineer attending site to conduct repairs has the information – and necessary spare parts – to give them the optimum chance of a speedy first-time fix.

Of course, preventing faults in the first place is far better than the cure of having to fix them. And remote UPS monitoring helps data centre operators detect – and solve – many issues before they have the chance to grow into something more serious.

Say the UPS alarms during an automated battery test, and further investigation suggests a weakening block of batteries is the reason. Promptly replacing those batteries ensures the entire set won’t fail, eliminating the chance of a potentially catastrophic outcome.

Cloud-based remote monitoring minimises the number of onsite service visits you’ll need, reducing your maintenance costs, while it also allows staff to carry out many of their key day-to-day duties from the safety of their own home, without having to physically attend site.

There’s one final positive to consider. One that proves remote monitoring shouldn’t just be seen as an additional insurance policy to mitigate against something going wrong. It can actually boost day-to-day performance and improve operational efficiency too.

How so? During ‘normal’ conditions, you can build up an insight into the UPS’s performance over time by interrogating its historical alarm and status logs. Now if you’re a big data centre with lots of UPS systems on the same network, that’s a huge amount of valuable information to examine. Crunching the data can help you to optimise load management and identify other areas for improvement.

In increasingly uncertain times, remote UPS monitoring offers data centre operators the reassurance that they’ve always got a ‘virtual’ power engineer onsite 24 hours a day making sure their essential standby power systems are in full working order.

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