When the COVID-19 pandemic began, many businesses were well-prepared to weather this tumultuous environment for one simple reason: They had embraced digital transformation. From large enterprises to retailers and restaurants, investments in digital technologies made prior to the crisis have enabled these businesses to adapt operationally in order to survive and, in some cases, thrive amidst the uncertainty. In many cases, the pandemic accelerated digital transformation to a point where there’s no turning back.
The new reality ushered in by the coronavirus has put more pressure on data centers to store, manage, protect, and deliver business-critical data in an environment that continues to undergo its own digital transformation. The proliferation of distributed IT infrastructure and edge applications created an environment where a considerable amount of infrastructure can operate without dedicated, on-site support staff. The ability to automate key processes and remotely manage IT systems has helped data centers keep things running while facing stay-at-home orders and evolving government guidelines.
As IT strategies continue to evolve in the current climate, so too will the power requirements for supporting and backing up critical infrastructure.
Early adopters of mobile internet, video, cloud, and IoT technologies knew the reward was worth the risk, but even they couldn’t anticipate the current crisis. Large retailers and banks have transitioned to e-commerce models to keep serving customers, universities have kept students engaged through online coursework and resources, and that barely scratches the surface of the “new normal.” Of course, efficiency and reliability are priorities in the infrastructure that supports these technologies, and organizations have been able to successfully adapt their power management strategies in these environments as needs shifted.
Most data center and IT teams didn’t have to start from scratch. A recent Uptime Institute report summed it up well: “Thanks to their focus on performance, efficiency, and reliability — tested through prior experience with power blackouts, wildfires, adverse weather, and other potentially disruptive events — most data center owner/operators have contingency plans in place that can be adapted to the challenges of a pandemic.”
At the heart of an emergency response strategy are key power backup components, such as UPSs, that deliver reliable power in the case of an unplanned event. Power monitoring software and services can be layered on top of these systems to help remotely manage and maintain equipment, which becomes even more critical now as data centers face the prospect of having limited on-site staff and/or potential travel restrictions. Technicians may decide to use their software investment to create a central hub for monitoring infrastructure across multiple sites and locations, keeping an eye out for potential issues and maintaining business continuity.
As demands evolve in our increasingly digital landscape, capabilities will continue to progress for data centers to manage power from distributed IT systems to the edge. And amid changing times, IT teams should consider how they can fine-tune their power management strategies for the uncertain days ahead.
An eye for advancement
If the past few months have taught us anything, it’s that responding to business challenges related to COVID-19 will be more of a marathon than a sprint. As described in Uptime Institute’s guidance on the pandemic, current thinking about the virus is that it may become endemic and recur on an annual or seasonal basis — much like the flu. So, in addition to dealing with day-to-day challenges, businesses must anticipate and plan for the potential of a long-term impact.
In power management, several advancements have emerged that data center operators should explore as they consider their ability to weather the pandemic long term. On the hardware level, new lithium-ion batteries can serve as a valuable replacement option for traditional valve-regulated lead acid (VRLA) batteries. These provide several benefits for UPSs, including the fact that they recharge quickly and last eight to 10 years.
Power monitoring software also continues to evolve with enhanced capabilities for facilitating easily digestible, at-a-glance reports that offer insights into product history and potential issues. Dashboards can communicate how devices or locations are performing and deliver device-level details. Insights surrounding real-time data, trends, events, service histories, and alarms can be accessed virtually from a mobile or tablet device.
Going hand-in-hand with power management software are new predictive analytics services that can help IT managers anticipate failure of critical components before they occur. By transition maintenance processes from reactive to proactive, these services may help data center managers reduce the need for staff to interact with outside personnel because technicians will only provide on-site service when it’s absolutely needed. Repairs or updates can be scheduled at convenient times, avoiding emergency service calls and utilizing convenient maintenance windows.
As more pressure is put on the underpinning infrastructure powering digital transformation, cybersecurity becomes another critical factor. IT managers should ensure their systems are secure across both IT and OT networks to avoid potential destructive hacks or other complications that can result when equipment isn’t adequately protected. To support these objectives, data centers can now leverage network management cards to connect devices like UPSs and better protect against breaches. Physical security measures should be taken into consideration as well. Rack enclosures can be protected with security locks to ensure only authorized personnel have access to the systems. Additionally, consider leveraging cybersecurity services from the power management technology provider, which can provide added protection to keep operations and personnel safe.
The road ahead
As data center operators anticipate the next chapter in the COVID-19 era, it’s safe to expect that digital transformation will only intensify. Businesses across all industries will look to technology innovation to help them survive the current phase of the pandemic while preparing for what comes next. In many cases, this means continuing to build on investments they had already considered prior to the pandemic. Automation will be a greater factor as networks grow more expansive and interconnected. For power management, that means seamlessly monitoring and managing electrical infrastructure will become even more important, along with the capability to automatically initiate policy-based actions in the case of an outage.
Considering an integrated power management strategy now while anticipating the future trajectory of the industry will provide data center operators with more flexibility to respond to evolving conditions moving forward. Having the right backup power solutions in place can help streamline infrastructures to avoid both data loss and hardware damage in the face of potential power events. And a willingness to evolve will give teams more peace of mind knowing they can continue to navigate the waters of uncertain times.