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UPS monitoring: putting you in (remote) control

Mon 26 Mar 2018 | Leo Craig

Leo Craig, General Manager of Riello UPS, outlines how modern UPS monitoring can mean much more than simply responding to an alarm when it is raised.

Your uninterruptible power supply (UPS) is the most important insurance policy your data centre can have. When there’s a power failure affecting your server room, a UPS buys you invaluable time until the backup generators kick in. It ensures your essential equipment can safely shut down. And it’ll minimise the risk of you suffering damaging data loss.

All UPS units need some sort of communication capability to warn of impending issues, whether they are relatively minor problems that need solving or more fundamental faults with potentially catastrophic consequences.

Of course, there’s no point an alarm being raised if it doesn’t trigger an appropriate response. So whether it’s visually with a flashing light on the display of the unit, an automated message sent to first responders, or the loud sound of beeping and sirens, your UPS needs to be closely monitored at all times.

While for simple power protection systems, merely keeping eyes and ears on red alert for warning alarms can suffice, for the larger, more complex systems commonly found in data centres, modern UPS monitoring involves far more sophisticated communications capabilities.

It can transform your UPS into a truly intelligent device that not only flags up potential problems, but allows for ongoing strategic analysis, preventive maintenance, and the capability for the unit to be monitored remotely. All actions that will have a hugely positive impact and help your system operate at optimum performance and efficiency levels.

Keeping things simple – local UPS monitoring

The most basic type of UPS monitoring takes the form of voltage free contact, also known as dry contacts. This involves a set of terminals presented either on the UPS itself or through a slot-in accessory card. The signals from these terminals are usually linked to a Building Management System (BMS) or remote status panel and enables UPS alarms and statuses to be communicated with other equipment located at the same site.

Volt free communication provides straightforward ‘true / not true’ responses on details such as whether the UPS is operating on battery due to mains failure, if the low battery threshold has been reached, or when there is a UPS failure.

For the very smallest of installations, such as a UPS below 5 kVA, opto-isolators can be used as an alternative to volt free contact. These are electronic devices that isolate two parts of a circuit but allow a signal to pass through and enable similar ‘true / not true’ information to be shared.

In many set-ups, however, access to much more advanced information than this is not only desirable but more likely essential, meaning far more sophisticated communication is vital. This is the case with facilities such as hospitals, which can have relatively small server rooms along with an overall building management system, as well as smaller-scale datacentres.

Information such as the mains power supply voltage, frequency and current, the UPS output, frequency and current, or remaining battery time can all be measured, transmitted, and monitored, either on-site or from a remote location. These key statistics can be used to analyse performance and, in case of fault or failure, automatically trigger dedicated response or system shutdown scripts.

Such information can be sent using an RS-232 connection, a standard protocol for serial data exchange where bits of data are sent sequentially one at a time over the same communication wire.

A UPS forming part of a local network can be equipped with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) capabilities

Most UPS units will include an RS-232 port plus additional slots that enable quick and convenient connection to additional communication cards. For systems with longer distances to cover, RS-485 or fully-duplex RS-422 standards can be utilised.

Another popular way to exchange data 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 – a single master plus several slaves. While Profibus – a leaner and faster adaptation of Modbus – is the recognised standard for fieldbus communication in automation technology.

Scaling up – advanced network communication in modern data centres

While the standards and protocols touched on above are suitable for many facilities, there is another network-based solution that is commonly used within the datacentre.

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.

UPS control panel

In practice, this sees the unit fitted with a network adapter which enables it to both “talk” (transmit data) as well as “listen” (receive external commands and instructions).

SNMP-based networking, combined with user-friendly communication software such as our PowerShield3 platform, turns your data centre’s UPS into an advanced machine which gives network administrators real-time access to important information such as battery status, load levels, and system temperatures.

Such a system also gives you the ability set up email or text message alerts to promptly warn of any alarms as soon as they happen, as well as the capacity to remotely shut down your data centre servers if the power doesn’t quickly return after a blackout.

A network setup like this actually encourages preventive UPS maintenance and good housekeeping. Power disturbances can be logged, low battery capacity can be flagged up in advance, and more. All these invaluable facts and figures are available for immediate analysis across the network, either on-site or even remotely by your trusted UPS maintenance provider.

A networked environment can even help improve operational efficiency in large-scale data centres. Information from dozens of UPS’ on the same network can be collected, studied, and used to optimise load management.

Into the cloud: systems spread across cities or even continents

The remote monitoring capabilities offered by network-based approaches really come into their own in the sprawling power protection systems found at large-scale data centre set-ups scattered across different locations.

UPS units linked to the same network are often spread hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. Some are even housed at unmanned sites, which makes remote monitoring absolutely essential.

Of course, such a configuration puts huge pressures on data centre managers and network administrators to know exactly what’s going on at all times, which is why many opt for the additional peace of mind provided by adding an external UPS remote monitoring service such as our Riello Connect platform as part of their overall maintenance plan.

This secure, cloud-based facility acts as an extra pair of eyes and ears on your system’s performance. So not only are your internal administrators able to keep a watchful lookout for alarms and potential failures, so too are fully-trained technicians from our maintenance team, who monitor and analyse data from the UPS units 24/7.

This additional layer of protection reduces the risk of an alarm ever going without response, and also ensures many potential failures are proactively identified and fixed before they ever reach a critical stage.

riello300Riello UPS offers a vast range of products, organised into 22 ranges of uninterruptible power supplies (UPS ), based on several different state-of-the-art technological architectures.

Experts featured:

Leo Craig

General Manager
Riello UPS

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