Dan Heggem, PE, is the Vice President of Swanson Rink. He has 19 years of experience as an electrical engineer for mission critical data center projects. His experience includes electrical upgrades in existing facilities, as well as large greenfield projects.
The heart of the data center electrical system is the UPS system. UPS systems are highly complex control systems and the maintenance and repair requires specially trained technicians. Assuring that you have the right UPS service technicians is as important as selecting the right UPS system.
Data Center owners go to great lengths to study various UPS system manufacturers at the time of purchase in an effort to install the most reliable brand of UPS equipment in their facility. This often includes studies by the design team to compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages of each manufacturer’s system. In this way, they can decide if that particular system is reliable enough to be installed in their Data Center. At the end of the construction and on site commissioning process for the UPS system, the UPS service vendor is often chosen on a low-dollar bid comparison of multiple third party service vendors.
Instead of simply choosing the vendor on price, here are some questions the Data Center operator should ask prior to making a decision for the UPS service contract.
- What is the level of experience of the technician maintaining your specific UPS model? Ask for references who are also data center operators. Then call the references to verify the technician’s specific model experience.
- Is the technician factory trained on your specific equipment? Make sure the proposed technician has experience on your specific generation of equipment. Do not hire a company that tells you all UPS systems are alike. Most UPS systems have special test procedures, which are unique to a particular manufacturer. It is critical that your service vendor is aware of these procedures. UPS service technicians should receive factory re-training when new product offerings and product upgrades are installed.
- Does the service vendor have an established relationship with the UPS manufacturer? Factory authorized service vendors have access to equipment updates and service bulletins issued from the manufacturer. This is very important to prevent your facility from encountering problems that other data centers may already have experienced. Include requirements in your service RFP for access to factory engineering during troubleshooting, including factory field support when needed.
- How long has the technician worked for this company? If they have longevity with the company and good references, they can be your best ally when a problem arises.
The manufacturer of the UPS system is typically the most qualified service firm to maintain the equipment; however, they are often higher priced than third party service vendors. The cost of a service business that includes the expertise and factory support outlined above will typically exceed the cost of those firms without that level of service. This is not to say that there are not good third party service firms, but it is important to realize that an experienced technician with factory support can prove their worth in just one service call if a computer outage is averted.
It would be in the best interest of both the UPS manufacturer and the Data Center operator for the UPS manufacturer to offer the same level of training to third party service vendors as they do for their own service technicians. With the proliferation of UPS installations in the last 15 years, it is unlikely that a UPS manufacturer can successfully provide field service at all locations. Ultimately it is the end user who will suffer if they do not have equal access to quality field service. UPS manufacturers need to realize that regardless of who provides maintenance that when an incident occurs the finger generally gets directed at the UPS manufacturer.
Every year hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent on the UPS equipment which supports millions of dollars worth of computer equipment. The same care and due diligence that is spent selecting the UPS manufacturer should also be spent on selecting the UPS maintenance provider. Why risk an outage by placing the maintenance of your UPS system in the hands of someone who is not intimately familiar with the special features of your equipment?
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