Riello UPS’s Chris Cutler outlines the key questions data centre operators should ask to ensure they get the most out of their UPS maintenance plan.
Winter poses its own unique challenges. Cold weather puts greater stress on our electricity network at a time when there’s less renewable power feeding into the grid. Snow, ice, and high winds can knock out power lines. There’s a heightened risk of flooding too.
All in all, we’re entering a time of year when major power disruption is far more likely. For data centre operators, reliable uninterruptible power supplies are the key first line of defence that prevents essential IT equipment and electrical devices from experiencing the deep freeze of downtime.
But those UPS systems are complex machines in their own right. Data centre installations often cost anywhere from tens to even hundreds of thousands of pounds. Wear and tear over time is inevitable, so certain parts and consumables will need replacing. And no piece of sophisticated electrical equipment is infallible – your UPS will probably need repairing at some point.
‘Best endeavours’ versus a guaranteed response
If your data centre UPS is fairly new, it might still be covered under its initial warranty. But you should be aware that a warranty only offers a ‘best endeavours’ response if something goes wrong; it isn’t an absolute guarantee of a speedy solution.
That’s why for most mission-critical settings, such as data centres, the safeguard of an ongoing UPS maintenance plan makes sense. These contracts set out in black and white the timescales to get you back online if a fault occurs.
They’ll also include provision for at least one planned preventive maintenance visit (PMV) a year. These are similar to the annual health checks you get on a car or boiler. A PMV provides peace of mind that everything’s working as it should and helps to maximise lifespan.
And remember, prevention is better than cure. Proactive upkeep can have a hugely positive impact on the reliability and performance of your system. A well-maintained UPS reduces your risk of failure – and damaging downtime – while it will also run more efficiently, cutting your energy use.
Unfortunately, not all UPS maintenance contracts are made equal. Some are better than others. And sadly some agreements aren’t even worth the paper they’re written on, full of get-out clauses, caveats, and confusing legal jargon.
So before signing on the dotted line, do your due diligence and get clarity on several crucial points. You should never be afraid to ask challenging questions of any prospective provider. Here are a few key queries to get the ball rolling:
How fast will you respond to an emergency callout?
Obviously, you can’t predict when a UPS system will fail, but data centre operators need to know that any future fault will be fixed as soon as possible. That’s why it’s crucial to get a clear, guaranteed response and even fix times included in your service level agreement (SLA) to avoid any ambiguity.
The majority of maintenance providers will claim to offer a ‘24/7 response’, but it’s prudent to get clarification on what that term means in reality. What is the response? Is it an automated message saying your problem has been noted? A phone call with technical support? Or an engineer on-site fixing the problem within a set timeframe? You might get a rapid initial response, but then it might be several days until your faulty UPS is fully fixed.
How quickly will I get spare parts?
When it comes to downtime, every minute or even every second counts. While it’s crucial your UPS maintenance provider has plenty of spare and replacement parts readily available, it’s even more important they can get them to your data centre quickly, no matter where you are located. It’s no consolation if your provider has significant stocks of spares but they are hundreds of miles away from your site.
On the subject of spares, it’s worth clarifying what’s covered under the maintenance plan and what isn’t. Consumables such as batteries or capacitors don’t tend to be included, and while replacement fans are included as standard with our contracts, this isn’t always the case – so it’s worth double-checking so you aren’t hit with unexpected costs.
Who will service my UPS?
Modern data centre UPSs are expensive and sophisticated devices. So you need to know that any engineer entrusted with installing, servicing, and if necessary, repairing your units knows what they are doing. Are they fully trained and certified on the particular model and manufacturer?
Data centre operators are perfectly entitled to use third-party maintenance providers rather than their UPS manufacturer, but you should be aware a general maintenance or electrical engineer is unlikely to have sufficient product-specific knowledge.
Remember that human error is the single most common cause of downtime. An engineer who isn’t familiar with your UPS could unwittingly throw an incorrect switch, and then you’re left facing unplanned downtime.
When it comes time for a service visit, always ask for proof your engineer is trained for the specific manufacturer and model. Remember it’s not unusual for subcontractors to be substituted in at the last minute if the original engineer becomes unavailable.
Don’t get caught cold
Obtaining clarity over emergency response times, availability of spares, and engineer competence will go a long way to ensuring you make an informed decision about who is best placed to look after your UPS.
And with the most cautious estimates suggesting downtime costs data centres thousands of pounds a minute, a proactive approach to UPS maintenance is likely to pay for itself over time by making it less likely operators are caught cold when any big freeze strikes.