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Mon 27 Jun 2005 04:00 AM

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UPS intelligence

Enterprises consider uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices as necessary but unintelligent and do not always manage them efficiently. However, due to increasing downtime costs and power outages, CIOs are taking advantage of the intelligent features by integrating the data of the UPS management onto their organisation’s network.

|~|UPS-BODY.jpg|~||~|Nothing can re-iterate the importance of UPS more than last month’s power outage in Dubai. The Emirate’s six-hour blackout brought business activities to a sudden halt. The power outage particularly affected the banking sector because the disruption to telephone lines and computer links hindered transactions. ATM and credit card networks were down for hours.

However, some enterprises were able to avoid the frustrations and financial losses caused by the power failure, thanks to their efficient use of UPS devices. Kuwait-based Al Ahli Bank’s Dubai branch managed to continue operating despite the blackout in the Emirate. Like all financial institutions, every branch of the Kuwaiti bank has vital data that needs to be replicated at regular intervals at a remote disaster recovery site. Using an online double conversion UPS technology, Al Ahli Bank managed to minimise the disruption and save its data.

When the lights went off, the Tripp Lite UPS device kicked in to save files and databases and shut itself down carefully at the disaster recovery site. The UPS successfully supported the bank’s disaster recovery site for 45 minutes before all open applications could be shut down and the network secured. “That day's power outage in Dubai vividly highlights the need for [smart] UPS solutions," emphasises Vipin Sharma, director of business development for Tripp Lite in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. "We anticipate a significant increase in demand for business continuity solutions following the outage as awareness for this business need has increased considerably,” he adds

For any Middle Eastern enterprise, adopting modular standardisation as a power supply strategy is beneficial on many fronts. It reduces unnecessary costs and prevents critical data loss. "It is quite clear that enterprises in the Middle East are embracing the concept of data centres as they seek to consolidate and centralise their operations. This is where sophisticated UPS solutions come into play. In order to remain competitive in today’s business environment, companies can not afford any downtime,” says Sharma.

Furthermore, enterprises that deploy intelligent UPS solutions have the ability to control the quality of their power supply in real-time. "These capabilities range from simple remote monitoring of a single environmental or UPS unit to an integrated communication system that can oversee power, environmental and security points — all monitored from a single location," he adds.

UPS communication solutions provide multiple options for each level of power protection, ranging from a simple shutdown interface to network management protocol (SNMP)-based software that goes beyond power protection and control to managing air conditioning units. "The latest UPS communication is also available in a ‘redundant’ form — designed to provide multiple solution paths in the event of an unexpected problem. With this strategy, the UPS [solution] provides outside communication, which is separate from the network wire, assuring emergency contact with administrators or the equipment manufacturer even in the event of a network failure," explains Sharma.

In addition to standard control consoles and remote monitoring units, intelligent UPS devices have the ability to cover wide areas. Designed for large, complex computing and telecommunications systems, these devices provide real-time monitoring and alarms from any piece of analog or digital equipment. The system can monitor everything from temperature at a remote telecommunications shelter to battery status on the starter motor of a standby generator, including power, temperature and humidity, smoke or water detection and security.

What happened last month in Dubai proves that in today’s fast paced world, corporations cannot afford to encounter problems with their systems. Issues such as downtime, which can lead to huge amounts of financial loss due to systems failure and unnecessary expenditure, the cause of profit drops and resource wastage are some of the aspects that should be carefully monitored and controlled.

Philip Hughes, country manager for American Power Conversion (APC) Turkey and the Middle East, emphasises the importance of having an intelligent UPS system, as opposed to a traditional model. “These solutions can be a complete waste of time in an IT environment if they are not managed well. These devices should do be able to tell end users at what time the system will shut down and save data regularly. More importantly, it should safely shutdown servers, firewalls, routers and switches automatically," he says.

Enterprises can monitor the status of their UPS in different locations and countries using managed power distribution units to manage individual systems remotely. This is especially useful in a rack environment, which has multiple servers and networking equipment. "When enterprises manage UPS devices [efficiently], they are able to access and control equipment both locally and remotely, monitor the environment, control the load on the power outlets, check the status of batteries and send out warnings via SMS and e-mail should thresholds be breached," Hughes explains.||**|||~|Scan10006-BODY.jpg|~|Continuous power supply is critical for news organisations like the BBC, says BBC Arabic’s Wagdi.|~|A power outage could happen anywhere. For instance, the US suffered a 12-hour power outage not so long ago. The management of sudden critical situations and disasters depends on how prepared authorities and organisations are to cope with the situation.

UPS is recognised as one defence front that is critical to disaster management. A decade ago, when Egypt suffered a major power failure, those organisations that had deployed UPS devices did not suffer too much. However, those companies that were not well prepared suffered major financial and data losses. The incident raised the awareness of UPS solutions in the Egyptian business community, leading to swift, wide scale adoption of the technology in financial and medical sectors.

Today, Egyptian organisations pay special attention to ensuring they are well equipped to manage sudden power failures. "We are not lagging in deploying intelligent UPS devices. We are able to enjoy latest technologies because they are introduced to the local market within a year of its [global] launch,” says Moustafa Mahmoud, maintenance manager at Gila, an Egyptian UPS distributor for MGE Systems Company.

When it comes to the intelligent functionalities of UPS devices, these features are embedded not only in UPS solutions, but also in generators. All enterprises have to do is to migrate these features onto their network.

“As businesses start to realise the importance of their data, they are also embracing the adoption of intelligent solutions to protect their data. Perhaps this is why we are witnessing an increasing demand for sophisticated UPS devices. A traditional, unintelligent device will turn itself off once the battery is flat. However, an intelligent one will send an alarm to end users alerting them of the situation and the need to save data and close applications before it shuts down the system safely," notes Mahmoud.

Today, UPS is necessary for enterprises in every segment of the market. Khaled Osman, deputy general manager for projects at Nile Engineering, says wherever there is data, there is a need for UPS devices. "Can you imagine a power cables factory that has machines worth millions of dollars, producing 100 metre cable worth thousands of dollars? If there is a sudden power cut, the valuable machines will stop, impacting the production cycle,” Osman says.

The El Araby Group decided to deploy UPS devices following a power outage at its Banha Govenorate factory in 1999. Ibrahim El Melegy, general manager, workshops and maintenance at El Araby, says UPS devices used at the time were inadequate and his organisation suffered enormously. "Our generator at the time was under maintenance and we did not have electricity for eight hours. We could not communicate with our staff at the factory for that duration. It is not only that the production had stopped, we also lost critical data,” says El Melegy.

The company learnt an important lesson from the experience: Do not underestimate the importance of UPS and be prepared at all times. When the company decided to buy new UPS solutions, it made sure they were robust enough to cope with extreme situations. "The need for an intelligent UPS [system] was obvious. The UPS management was a top priority, in addition to integrating the data of the UPS onto our main system.”

The Al Araby Group bought a 15 KW UPS solution, which manages the company’s critical points on the network. "The result is the electricity is always available at critical points. When [companies] buy UPS solutions, [they must] ensure they are flexible enough to be updated and developed because it is expensive to completely replace them every now and then,” El Melegy states.

Enterprises such as radio stations cannot cope with long durations of power outages. In addition, when the station is the esteemed British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), a power cut is unacceptable, especially during airtime. As power stability varies not only among countries, but also from one district to another, the BBC has deployed top of the line UPS products, which is embedded with intelligent functionalities and software.

Hani Wagdi, technical coordinator at BBC Arabic, Cairo, says the importance of UPS is highlighted not only during a power outage, but also during power instability, when it purifies the city's main power to protect the radio station's IT infrastructure. "The UPS is always at the front. We do not buy UPS devices and customise our machines according to its capacity to load — we check our needs prior to buying the solution," he adds.

The BBC’s Cairo office has more than 20 machines and at least five of them are mission-critical, which means they have to be working 24/7. "We check the loads of these machines, making sure power is available all the time, then we prioritise and rationalise consumption. We can stand a power cut in the air conditioning system, but the air conditioning in the studio has to work during airtime, so everything has to work all the time,” notes Wagdi.

Continuous power supply is the base for all call centres. Xceed, which provides support for international and local companies from its call centre in Egypt's Smart Village, says the future of organisations, which offer customer services via phones, can be jeopardised with constant power outages.

"Power loss means loss of financial resources. All facilities, including telephony systems, depend on power. We deal with different time zones, which means we require 24/7 power supply. The change and instability of power is worse than downtime because the infrastructure equipment is sensitive to that. It is better to invest in UPS solutions than face losses," states Ayman Maher, office automation manager at Xceed.

"Integrating UPS data onto IT systems is not a luxury for enterprises anymore. It is better to monitor everything than face unpleasant surprises and losses. If you have the software on your computer, you can follow the UPS data," he adds.
||**|||~|AMR-EZZ-PIC-BODY.jpg|~|When buying a new UPS solution, the quality of service and technical support should be taken into consideration, says Juhayna Aboul Ezz.|~|Furthermore, continuous power supply is crucial for the hospitality industry because hotels and restaurants need a 24/7 service. Multinational hotel chain Conrad, believes organisations in the service industry should be prepared for unexpected power failures. "Hotels in particular, need to have power all the time. They have to look after their guests. Although we have our own generators, we ensure that our UPS devices are up-to-date,” says Amgad Salama, maintenance engineer at Conrad Cairo.

Protecting its credibility as an international hotel chain, Conrad is keen to deploy new technologies. Advanced, intelligent UPS solutions are essential in maintaining that image, as well as managing crisis situations. "We cannot afford a power cut even for those few seconds when we need to turn on the generator because our servers will lose critical data. Networks, including the wireless ones, have UPS technologies, which secures the switching of power with no delay"

For companies, which manufacture perishable goods, a disaster recovery (DR) plan is a necessity and a continuous supply of power must be an integral part of that plan. Juhayna Food Industries, which has ten branches and operates 24/7, has deployed appropriate UPS solutions to protect its network from any sudden shut down that may damage databases related to production operations. "In the past, transit time from city power to generators was long and we faced problems with our servers,” says Amr Aboul Ezz, CIO of Juhayna.

Currently, the manufacturer is looking at upgrading its IT infrastructure in order to optimise the benefits of its UPS solution. However, for Juhayna, it is not only about adopting a new technology. The quality of service and technical support provided by a vendor will be the key requirements for Juhayna. "We prefer international providers with well-known brands or their credited representatives and distributors. Price will also be an important requirement. The existence of many UPS providers in the market creates price competition,” he adds.

Furthermore, due to production deadlines, UPS is also essential in the newspaper and printing industry. Egyptian printing press Al Ahram has been using UPS solutions since the 1970s. The company says UPS devices have a come a long way over the past 30 years. They have not only become smaller in size, but also improved in quality. "At the beginning, UPS devices were big, especially its liquid batteries. It used to take up a lot of space. We used to have a bell and an alarm to know when the power suffered any problem. There had to be an auxiliary contact to shut down the machines. However, this has changed,” says Salah Salem, electrical maintenance manager for Al Ahram.

The printing press uses advanced UPS technologies on its network. “The UPS is important because it gives critical power to computers and protects them from power outage or frequent ups and downs,” explains Salem. “The UPS comprises the retrofire, inverters, static switch and batteries.”

Global oil company Shell also relies heavily on smart UPS solutions. Since Shell has hundreds of workstations and servers containing corporate data, it is important for the company to have a 24/7 power supply. "When power outage or voltage instability happens, it takes 40 seconds to switch to the generator. This critical 40 seconds could damage servers and the storage of digital data," states Ahmed Abd El Karim, petrophysicist, exploration division at Shell Egypt.

"There are some important aspects of UPS, which enterprises need to consider. Things such as inverters, which are the most expensive parts, are sensitive and related to load capacity. They may be damaged if the load becomes more than its capacity. Still, the technology relating the computer to the UPS is not equivalent to the types of computer network to monitor the power supply,” he adds.

However, not all organisations are convinced of the value of the intelligent features of UPS devices. Tamer Ibrahim, operation maintenance manager at the Commercial International Bank (CIB), justifies not using intelligent UPS solutions citing its high cost. "We do not need intelligent UPS. We use UPS for certain purposes only,” says Ibrahim.

Instead, the bank relies on an alarm board model. "It can work instead of the UPS software that integrates it onto the system. Yes, it depends on human input, but so does the software. Anyway, there is always someone controlling it 24/7 at our branches in Egypt, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), Qatar, Kuwait and Dubai. We do not need correct shut down alerts because we do not have to do shut down," he adds. Even when Ibrahim recalls the four-hour power outage that occurred at the bank’s head quarters in Giza four months ago, he insists the presence of an intelligent UPS device would not have made any difference.

However, following Dubai’s six-hour power cut and the resulting US$73 million estimated potential loss of revenues for businesses, the Commercial International Bank may be one of the many organisations forced to reconsider its outlook on technologies that help manage sudden power outages.

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