Making the most of remote UPS monitoring
Thu 12 Nov 2020 | Chris Cutler
Chris Cutler of Riello UPS explains how UPS remote monitoring offers data centre operators the added reassurance of a ‘virtual’ power engineer onsite, 24 hours a day
Data centres have coped admirably over these past few months, not only with the increased demand created by companies shifting to work from-home and families turning to data-intensive streaming to overcome lockdown
isolation, but by managing to do so with heavily-reduced staffing levels themselves.
Yet even as society slowly starts returning to ‘normal’, we’re likely to be living with social distancing, restricted physical access to most sites, and other precautions for the foreseeable future. This makes an increased emphasis on remote monitoring almost inevitable. For the all-important uninterruptible power supplies protecting data centres against unplanned downtime, cloud-based remote monitoring provides 24/7/365 support that helps ensure your system runs efficiently, all without needing a physical presence onsite.
What is UPS monitoring?
At its most basic, UPS monitoring uses voltage-free (dry) contacts, which are sets of terminals either on the UPS itself or through a slot-in accessory card. Volt-free monitoring provides simple ‘true/not true’ responses to clarify, for example, whether there’s a mains failure or if the UPS is running on battery. However, mission-critical environments like data centres need a far more sophisticated level of communication to continuously monitor crucial information and drill down on alarms remotely.
This requires a network-based approach, either locally via an ethernet connection or over the internet, for which there are several possibilities. Firstly, there’s the option to use an RS232 connection which provides single-ended signalling. Although a relatively simple solution, RS-232 is prominent across various installations and regarded as a basic yet resilient solution.
Another popular method is Modbus, an open protocol that has become the most common method of connecting industrial electronic devices. Modbus allows serial communication from a single RS-232 or RS-485 connection by creating a hierarchical structure. Then there’s Profibus – a leaner and faster adaptation of Modbus – which is a recognised standard for Fieldbus communication in automation technology.
For advanced data centre remote UPS monitoring, however, there’s another solution. A UPS forming part of a local network can be equipped with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) capabilities – a vendor and platform-independent protocol that enables the unit to be remotely monitored and controlled from a central location.
In practice, this sees the UPS fitted with a network adapter and linked up to dedicated management software which enables it to both “talk” – transmit data – and “listen” – receive external commands and instructions, for example, running system shutdown scripts in the event of a power failure.
How does cloud-based remote monitoring work?
Cloud-based SNMP monitoring such as Riello Connect platform enables the UPS to communicate with a remote service centre manned 24/7/365 by expert engineers, with all interactions made via highly-secure SSL encryption. The service centre polls the UPS at regular intervals (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly) to check its current performance and operating environment, while most modern UPSs will also perform automated self-testing every 24 hours and alarm if a fault occurs or there’s a sudden change in onsite conditions, such as an overload or mains supply failure.
If an alarm triggers on the UPS, the remote monitoring software automatically sends email or SMS notifications to key personnel. It also alerts the service centre, where highly-trained technical experts carry out further diagnostics.
If necessary, the technicians can immediately arrange for service engineers to attend site with all the correct parts to fix more serious faults. Or in the worst case scenario, they’re able to initiate emergency shutdown scripts for all connected equipment.
Under normal operating conditions, service centre technicians and data centre staff can remotely interrogate the UPS’s historical status and alarm event logs to generate performance reports.
What are the benefits?
For data centre operators where any interruption to service will prove extremely costly, both financially and in terms of reputational hit, remotely monitoring your UPS delivers a range of benefits:
- Immediate fault detection – the obvious advantage with remote monitoring is you know immediately if there’s something wrong with your UPS. You don’t have to wait for your staff to physically see or hear an alarm. Such a delay could be crucial if a fault occurs out of hours or even worse, at an unmanned site. The sooner you – and the service centre – know there’s a problem, the quicker you can get it fixed.
- Remote fault diagnosis – with the ability to remotely interrogate the UPS, you can make an accurate initial assessment of the fault. This allows the responding engineer to attend the call-out with the goal of achieving a first-time fix.
- Prevention is better than cure – watchful monitoring also helps detect and fix many faults before they have the chance to develop into something far more serious. For example, a failed automatic battery self-test would trigger an alarm. Upon further investigation, you find the problem is caused by a weakening battery block. Promptly replacing this block reduces your risk of the entire battery set failing.
- Reduced service visits – remote monitoring also minimises the number of onsite service visits you’ll need, helping to reduce UPS maintenance costs. In these ‘work from home’ times, it also enables IT staff to carry out many of their key duties from the safety and comfort of their own homes.
- Improved performance and efficiency – monitoring encourages the historical tracking of UPS performance over time. For large-scale data centres with dozens of UPSs on the same network, it gives them the chance to collect and analyse huge amounts of valuable data, which can then be used to optimise load management, as well as highlighting other areas for potential improvement
In such uncertain times, remote UPS monitoring offers data centre operators the confidence that they’ve always got an extra pair of expert eyes and ears keeping tabs on their most mission-critical equipment.