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Feature - 20 February 2008 (ARN)

Predicting the unpredictable

The jury is no longer out on climate change - at least, about the fact that it is happening. New Bureau of Meteorology data shows Australia's annual mean temperature for 2007 was 0.67 degrees celcius above the 1961-1990 average and the sixth warmest year on record. Australia has now recorded a warmer-than-average year for 16 of the past 18 years.

Warming of 1 degree celcius, expected by 2030, is expected to cause up to 20 per cent more drought months and more violent storms, tornadoes and other severe weather.

According to the Australian Government's Department of Climate Change, this means rising sea levels, more intense storms and cyclones, reduced water availability in southern and eastern Australia, and more heat waves. Managing water and energy resources is going to cost more, and infrastructure will feel the pressure.

HP server and storage marketing manager, Angus Jones, personally experienced the damage a thunderstorm can do early this year, when one destroyed much of his home IT network. Surge protection should protect IT gear most of the time, but sometimes it doesn't, particularly if it doesn't have a port for Ethernet.

"I lost my broadband modem, my router, my kids' PC, the Xbox - and they were actually all unplugged [from the mains]. The surge came through the Optus line, out through the Optus modem and hit the computers through their NIC ports," Jones said.

Emerson Network Power marketing manager, Peter Spiteri, claimed businesses are getting more vulnerable to such events as power supply reliability decreases. Outages are becoming more common, and their impact is getting greater. Meanwhile, real-time, critical technologies, such as IP-based telephony, are migrating to the data network, making 100 per cent uptime imperative.

"The grid is getting less reliable while business continuity is becoming more critical," Spiteri said. "[Also] deregulation and privatisation are leading to less rigorous maintenance on energy providers' equipment as well as under-provisioning for extreme power draw." He said Australia's increasing population requires more electricity, adding to the burden already created by warmer temperatures.

"It's especially problematic on hot days when air conditioners are turned on at the same time off the same power feeds," Spiteri said.

Traditional computer rooms often had single UPS configurations backing up the entire network. Backup UPS provided just enough power and time to do a graceful shutdown on the network without losing critical data. When the power came back on, the network would be rebooted.

"Now, backup UPS is designed to ensure the critical elements of the network never go down. There should be multiple, redundant UPSs, so a single point of failure doesn't bring the network down," Spiteri said.

Backup generators, or GenSets, can keep the network up independent of the grid. Meanwhile, remote monitoring and power management helped users determine battery runtimes and the like, Spiteri said.

Load-shedding can also ensure the right devices get backup power and for how long; refrigerators might be low priority, while a mail server might be considered critical to business continuity.

Untapped opportunities

Emerson Network Power is training up resellers on the basics of power protection, using real gear, so they can offer customer backup audits as an additional service. Spiteri claimed some customers didn't have a backup power scheme; others had mouldering versions unlikely to protect them against the average power outage.

"You get them to undress," he said. "Almost every network has serious risks the reseller can reduce. Once you are involved in protecting the customer's network, you gain a high level of intimacy with that account."

HP's Jones said the company is offering 750-60,000VA three-phase UPS through the channel to help target increased business vulnerability.

"These are the most efficient UPS we've ever had - 97 per cent of the power going in is actually utilised. Our old UPS hardware would be at around 91 per cent," he said.

Software lets users mitigate too-high voltages via dissipation and boost low ones by drawing off more battery power. Battery life is extended, and when a customer does need to replace it, batteries are hotswappable.

HP has also been building efficiency into all its hardware. Its ThermalLogic blades, for example, use less electricity and generate less heat, Jones said. It all helped control power requirements in increasingly variable and extreme operating conditions.

Power management and UPS is moving beyond straightforward shutdown and offering customers sophisticated ways to control power-off when the system is under duress, he said. . .


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