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Making the most of remote UPS monitoring

Chris Cutler, Riello UPS Business Development Manager, explores the ins and outs of remotely monitoring a UPS system and explains how it provides additional peace of mind to data centre operators.

All uninterruptible power supplies need some sort of communication capabilities that give operators warning of any impending issues, whether it’s a minor problem or a more fundamental fault that could have potentially catastrophic consequences.

Obviously, there’s no point in an alarm going off, whether it’s a flashing light on the unit, the sound of a beep or siren, or an automated message sent to first responders, unless it triggers an appropriate response.

Whereas simply keeping an eye or ear out for a warning alarm may suffice at the most basic level, for the complex UPS systems deployed in data centres, a much more sophisticated level of monitoring is required.

Remote monitoring by experts at an external service centre offers data centre operators the added reassurance of a ‘virtual’ power engineer on-site 24 hours a day. It also has the potential to transform your UPS into a truly intelligent device that flags up potential problems in advance as well as encouraging advanced data analysis that helps to optimise ongoing performance and efficiency.

Understanding the basics of UPS monitoring

Before we take a look at remote UPS monitoring, there are several simpler methods available too.

The most basic way of monitoring a UPS system uses volt-free (dry) contacts, which are sets of terminals on the UPS or fitted via a slot-in accessory card. They provide ‘true / not true’ responses to basic questions of fact – for example, ‘is there a mains power failure?’ or ‘is the UPS running on battery?’

The signals from these terminals typically link into a Building Management System (BMS) or remote status panel, which enables UPS alarms to be monitored along with other equipment at the same site.

However, a mission-critical environment such as a data centre undoubtedly calls for a far more sophisticated, network-based approach, either locally using ethernet connections or over the internet.

The first option is to use an RS-232 connection to provide single-ended signalling. Then there’s the open protocol Modbus, which is the most common method of connecting industrial electronic devices. Modbus allows serial communication from a single RS-232 or RS-485 connection by creating a hierarchical structure. Next up is Profibus, a faster version of Modbus, which is increasingly used to monitor automation technologies.

Taking things to the next level, data centre UPS systems forming part of a local network can be equipped with Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) capabilities, a vendor and platform-independent protocol that enables the unit to be remotely monitored and controlled from a central location.

In practice, the UPS is fitted with a network adaptor that enables it to both ‘talk’ (i.e. transmit data such as load levels and voltages) and ‘listen’ (i.e. receive external commands such as running emergency shutdown scripts).

How cloud-based remote monitoring works

Cloud-based SNMP monitoring systems, such as our Riello Connect platform, see the UPS communicate with a remote service centre manned 24/7/365 by expert technical experts. All communications are made via highly secure SSL encryption.

The service centre interrogates the UPS at regular intervals (i.e. daily, weekly, monthly), while most modern UPS will also perform their own range of automated daily tests too. If there’s any significant or sudden change to operating conditions, for example an overload, mains supply failure, or fault with the UPS, an alarm will trigger.

As soon as there’s an alarm, the remote monitoring software immediately sends an email or SMS alert to first responders and other key personnel. It also notifies the service centre, where the engineers conduct further remote diagnostics, and if necessary, arrange for field engineers to attend site with the correct parts to fix the fault. While in the worst-case scenario, they can also trigger emergency shutdown scripts to safely turn the equipment off.

Under normal day-to-day operating conditions, service centre technicians and data centre staff can also remotely examine the UPS’ historical alarm logs and operating statuses to generate informative performance reports.

What are the benefits of remote UPS monitoring?

For data centre operators, cloud-based remote monitoring of your uninterruptible power supplies is a surefire way to reduce your risk of suffering damaging service downtime.

  • Immediate fault detection: the obvious advantage with remote monitoring is that you immediately know if there’s something wrong with your UPS. You don’t have to wait for someone to physically see or hear an alarm. This matters especially if the fault occurs outside of standard working hours or at an unmanned site, where it could otherwise go undetected for hours.
  • Remote fault diagnosis: by communicating with and interrogating the UPS, engineers at the service centre can make an informed analysis of any fault and quickly come up with potential solutions. This information gives the responding field service engineer the best possible chance of achieving a first-time fix.
  • Preventing problems: remote monitoring helps identify (and fix) many minor faults before they have the chance to escalate into something far more serious. As an example, a failed automatic battery self-test triggers an alarm. Further investigation finds that a weakening battery block is causing the problem. Your solution would be to replace the block proactively and promptly, which will significantly reduce the risk of the entire battery set failing.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: remote monitoring minimises the number of on-site service visits you’ll need. In addition, it gives IT staff the flexibility to perform many key duties remotely too.
  • Improved performance and efficiency: by analysing the UPS’ historical alarm and status logs, service centre technicians can track key performance metrics over time. For large-scale data centres deploying dozens of UPS systems across their network, that’s a huge volume of data to collate and study, with the results used to optimise areas such as load management, which can lead to a knock-on boost in efficiency.

Advanced remote UPS monitoring gives data centre operators the added confidence that they’ve always got an extra pair of expert eyes keeping tabs on their most mission-critical equipment at all times, whilst also helping to ensure its peak performance.

Chris Cutler

Business Development Manager at Riello UPS

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