What are the latest advancements you’re seeing in UPS technology?

There is considerable buzz right now around lithium-ion batteries in uninterruptible power systems (UPSs). The cost for lithium-ion technology has fallen dramatically in recent years, so it’s finally becoming a viable solution that is playing a role in data center and IT managers’ decision-making when it comes to purchasing a UPS. We’re constantly getting questions about this technology from our customers who want to better understand the benefits.

In industrial settings or data centers, lithium-ion batteries can perform the same functions as lead-acid batteries while offering significant advantages, including a 60% weight saving and 40% footprint saving over traditional lead-acid batteries. In addition to being lighter and smaller, lithium-ion batteries can also improve backup time by 30% or more, in the same footprint

With a 10-year service life and a much higher cycle life, these solutions are an ideal fit for the deployment of UPSs with both power backup and energy storage applications. Data center operators are starting to consider UPSs as an energy storage option with objectives similar to that of load shedding devices. By activating the UPS to handle loads during the highest period of demand,   a “peak shaving” strategy can allow data centers to increase energy efficiency and potentially reduce costs.

What is driving organizations to explore strategies like peak shaving?  

The ability to use UPSs as a grid sharing option wasn’t feasible until lithium-ion battery solutions came into the picture. If a data center wants to leverage a UPS for power during peak time, operators need a solution that ensures at least an hour of runtime versus the 5 to 10-minute timeframe many traditional batteries offer. Organizations can achieve this type of extended runtime with the help of lithium-ion batteries.  

Peak shaving and energy storage solutions are attractive options for organizations that are already leveraging renewable energy and/or want to maximize resources. For data centers located in big cities where they are subject to time-of-usage rates from utilities, this might also be a cost-effective option to consider in maintaining loads during strategic times where they’re poised to benefit the most financially.

Utilities sometimes offer incentives to data centers and other organizations to deploy strategies like peak shaving to help manage energy demands when systems are under the most stress. If the utility provides a data center with their schedule for peak loads, the data center can use their UPS for power during that timeframe for an hour and repeat the process a few times during the week to help balance energy distribution.    

For the data center, it’s up to staff to evaluate their systems and decide if this type of strategy is worth the investment. Power management software can be useful in this process, helping operators decipher how much savings they are able to achieve in comparison with the rates charged by the utility.

What other methods are data centers deploying today to improve performance?

Data centers today have a variety of new data and diagnostic tools available to help them drive faster, more cost-effective maintenance and repairs. The capabilities of predictive analytics have come a particularly long way when it comes to power management and backup solutions.  

As a monitoring and management solution, predictive analytics services like Eaton’s PredictPulse can help data center managers anticipate failure of critical components before they occur. By collecting and analyzing data from connected power infrastructure devices, these solutions provide IT administrators with the insight needed to make recommendations and act quickly to prevent unnecessary headaches.

As predictive systems evolve and more data is collected, computer-based monitors will get better and better about making decisions on their own. As the Internet of Things (IoT) evolves along with Big Data and machine learning, predictive analytics will continue shifting the power maintenance model from reactive to proactive.

What’s happening with cloud computing?  

With the popularity of real-time and livestream services, companies are starting to implement more decentralized or edge data center strategies to effectively serve end users. For companies like Netflix, there’s a benefit to moving some of their data away from the cloud and into closer proximity to their customer base. When there’s a popular show that many people want to watch on a Friday night, there’s less chance of lag times and other issues that might arise when that data is centralized.

As companies look to spread their wings in deploying smaller to mid-size data centers across various geographic areas, they’re exploring UPSs, power distribution units and other power components that fit the same size and mold. But, while they might be looking at initial investments that involve smaller devices, they also need flexibility in power management solutions that allow for growing bandwidth needs.

In alignment with this movement, we’re seeing an increase in demand for pre-packaged power management solutions that include IT racks and power equipment designed to be almost a plug-and-play system for small to medium-sized edge data centers. With this approach — merging hardware, networking and virtualization needs — data center operators can move quickly to deploy new racks and solutions as their needs grow.

How is software changing with the industry’s evolution?

As data center demands grow, IT and facility departments need to be able to increase and sustain high availability, maximize efficiency and minimize costs. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software provides an integrated platform for monitoring and measuring power, capacity and performance of both IT and facilities resources in the data center.

DCIM software has a complex task in the data center, playing a critical role in reducing operational expenses, improving system and application reliability, and mitigating risk through data analysis. While DCIM software has found a necessary niche in the industry, it’s important to keep in mind that many data center operators are just now taking their first steps in using this kind of technology.

Based on what we’re hearing in the industry, there’s a delicate balance at play when it comes to maximizing DCIM software features with ease-of-use for the enduser — and all at an acceptable price range. At this point, users don’t need or crave costly add-on modules — which can slow ROI. As a software provider, these are dynamics we’re aware of and look to support when comes to working with customers today. Putting ease-of-use at the forefront, we’re focused on driving intuitive data center monitoring with a simple, centralized platform to help customers to take those initial DCIM steps.