“Change is the essence of life. Be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become.” This anonymous quote seems to describe the mission-critical industry and this column perfectly. Our industry is constantly reinventing itself, and today we find ourselves on the verge of arguably the largest change yet, moving to the cloud.

We are in the midst of a transition from dedicated resources to a brave new virtual environment. Some of the ramifications are predictable, while others are not. However, we can all agree that the number of independent dedicated data centers will shrink over time as users gain confidence in, and eventually rely primarily upon, cloud services. Aside from hardware and software, employment opportunities will change and new opportunities will develop.

One such opportunity is health care. What does health care have to do with the mission-critical industry? Answering this question requires answering the question “What is a data center?” Though our individual definitions will differ, we can agree that a data center is primarily a place housing servers, media, and telecom facilities supported by a fully conditioned environment.

Looked at this way, hospitals are rapidly becoming data centers with patients. With the rising cost of health care and new consumer demand coupled with government regulations, e-health care is already well on the way. At the risk of sounding Orwellian, I can imagine a day when babies will get a chip at birth, your home will check your vitals as your enter or leave, and your patient records will reside just under your skin.

As the average hospital becomes more inter- and intra- connected, its physical plant will increasingly resemble what we recognize as the classic data center. 

The common hospital bed of today incorporates features that
Monitor patient weight real time.
  •  Monitor the bed’s head or foot angle.
  • Monitor when a patient has gotten into or out of the bed.
  • Control the surface environment, heat or cool the bed, and provide airflow to aid the healing process.
  • Assist caregivers when turning a patient, changing bedding, exiting or entering a bed, etc.
  • Adjust mattress surface pressure.
And that’s just the bed. If a simple bed is that sophisticated, think about the MRIs, lab equipment, and life-sustaining medical devices, monitors, and, of course, patient records.

All these features connect to the hospital’s IT backbone via hard-wired or wireless systems.

With these features also come a need for classic data center features that support high availability and reliability, including a hospital emergency power supply system (EPSS). The classic hospital EPSS consists primarily of generators and power transfer switches. If there is a UPS, it’s probably connected to the server that handles patient billing.

Many existing hospital EPSS are decentralized, unlike those that support classic data centers. This is a consequence of the incremental way many health-care facilities have grown. Your local hospital may well have begun early in the past century as a single large structure, but it has become a collection of additions or annexes. Oftentimes, emergency power has been installed in each building, independent of the others. Tying a number of independent and physically separated systems together presents extreme challenges. Just as the additions or new buildings vary in age, so do the emergency power supply systems.


Health-care facilities are subject to standards that cover more than the building codes, etc. Standards for these critical facilities continue to evolve in light of increasing terrorist threats, devastation caused by severe weather, and the proliferation of technology. Code-setting organizations and codes governing health-care facilities include:

  • The Joint Commission on Accreditation for Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) sets requirements for accreditation of hospitals. The official recognition that a health-care facility meets a high standard has broad implications that directly affect participation in government programs such as Medicare, consumer preference, and the bottom line. Among other things, JCAHO has very specific requirements for the hospital emergency power system. For example, upon a utility power outage, emergency power must be supplied to the most critical loads in less than 10 seconds. There are also other specific requirements regarding how and when these systems are tested.    
  • NFPA 70 ARTICLE 700 Emergency Systems Critical Operations Power Systems (COPS). The provisions of this article apply to the electrical safety of the installation, operation, and maintenance of emergency systems consisting of circuits and equipment intended to supply, distribute, and control electricity for illumination, power, or both, to required facilities when the normal electrical supply or system is interrupted. Emergency systems are those systems legally required and classed as emergency by municipal, state, federal, or other codes, or by any governmental agency having jurisdiction. These systems are intended to automatically supply illumination, power, or both, to designated areas and equipment in the event of failure of the normal supply or in the event of accident to elements of a system intended to supply, distribute, and control power and illumination essential for safety to human life.    
  • NFPA 99: Standard for Health Care Facilities fosters fire safety and protection with rules for the safe application of electrical systems, gas and vacuum systems, and environmental systems, along with materials and emergency management practices    
  • NFPA 110: Standard for Emergency and Standby Power Systems covers performance requirements for power systems providing an alternate source of electrical power in the event that the primary power source fails. Power systems covered include power sources, transfer equipment, controls, supervisory equipment, and all related electrical and mechanical auxiliary and accessory equipment needed to supply electrical power to the load terminals of the transfer equipment.
    When we hear or see advertisements for hospitals, it’s all about the technology that touches the patient. You have to wonder why the hospital doesn’t include the secure reliable supply of power that makes the technology function. After all, when we discuss reliability of a data center, we focus on money not life and death. Could it be that their marketing folks didn’t think about it, or in some cases could the EPSS not be up to the task?

    The only thing constant is change, and the health-care facility is an extremely dynamic example. The next time you have occasion to visit a hospital, look around and think about George Orwell, don’t forget Gordon Moore, and perhaps get a second opinion of the hospital’s EPSS.