Implementing the Best Battery Maintenance Practices to Avoid Data Center Downtime

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SCOTT BAER<br/>Emerson Network Power, LiebertSCOTT BAER
Emerson Network Power, Liebert

Scott Baer is Marketing Manager, Batteries, Emerson Network Power, Liebert Services. Baer joined Emerson Network Power in 1999 bringing with him extensive experience in both engineering and sales. A five-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, Baer has a bachelor’s degree in technical management.

Data center managers, especially those who oversee facilities that must be available to support revenue generating business operations, are constantly working to overcome the threat of downtime and rightfully so. When studies have shown that a single minute of downtime averages more than $7,900, an extended outage will have a severe impact to your company’s bottom line and possibly get you fired.

One of the best ways to minimize this risk is to take care of the batteries that support your uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Just one bad cell in a string of batteries can cause your UPS to fail in the event of an outage. The first step in taking care of batteries is to understand their true service life and then implement strategies to get the most from this part of your critical infrastructure.

Battery Lifespans

If you have managed critical equipment and worked with UPS batteries for any amount of time, you’ve likely seen that the battery manufacturer’s design life is not the same as the battery’s service life. Design life is determined by the manufacturer and takes into account cell design and battery aging under controlled conditions in the manufacturer’s laboratory. Battery service life considers how application, installation, real-world operating conditions and maintenance practices impact battery aging. Simply put, assuming that design life and service life are equivalent puts your data center at risk.

Emerson’s Liebert Services team has serviced more than 40,000 battery strings with 600,000 inspections or preventive maintenance visits. Therefore, we understand the realities of battery lifespan. This experience has shown that even for batteries with a design life of 10 years or more, capacity is lost in as early as three years due to several factors including usage, operating environment and maintenance. Both UPS and battery maintenance is essential for achieving optimal performance and getting the most out of your battery investment.

Battery Preventive Maintenance

Having a program of preventive maintenance and proactive battery replacement can greatly reduce the chances for failure during power outages, incidents of line noise, utility spikes and other unexpected power related issues.

In one study of more than 5,000 three-phase UPS units and more than 24,000 strings of batteries, the impact of regular preventive maintenance on UPS reliability was clear. This study revealed that the Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) for units that received two preventive maintenance (PM) service visits a year is 23 times better than a UPS with no PM visits. According to the study, reliability continued to steadily increase with additional visits completed by skilled service providers with very low error rates.

Mean Time Between Failure. (Source: Emerson Network Power)

Data shows how Mean Time Between Failure (MTBF) can be related to preventative maintenance times. (Source: Emerson Network Power)

The tasks typically performed during these important PM visits include complete visual inspection of the equipment, including subassemblies, wiring harnesses, contacts, cables, and all breakers, as well as checking air filters for cleanliness. At the end of this service, a system operational test including unit transfer and battery discharge should be performed. However, for a more comprehensive battery management program, monitoring is the key.

Battery Monitoring Services

In an analysis of battery data from more than 700 million cumulative operating hours covering the span of more than three years, it was found that data centers with battery monitoring systems installed on site had a reduced rate of outages due to bad batteries when compared to customers without monitoring. While outages did still occur, the incidents were isolated to human error where customers were either not watching the system or they did not know how to properly analyze the data provided by the monitor. This brought to light the need for experts to correctly monitor the alarm data and maintain the systems.

These battery monitoring services add a higher level of protection, giving you added confidence in the performance of your critical infrastructure and peace of mind knowing that your batteries are always being monitored minimizing the likelihood of unplanned downtime. Additionally, this continuous oversight allows for trend analysis that aids in planning and determining future battery investment.

One popular option for today’s busy data center and IT managers is the use of stationary battery monitors with remote analytic services—preferably having remote monitoring technology embedded into power protection infrastructures. This technology should include comprehensive data collection in order to provide early warning of alarm or out-of-tolerance conditions.

With robust remote monitoring technology, individuals responsible for managing the critical infrastructure, yet aren’t necessarily experts in the varied technologies present in their complex data centers, are able to augment their staff. Having embedded, monitoring capabilities also gives you the ability to improve MTBF and Mean Time To Repair (MTTR).

Improving MTTR is possible with the right monitoring technology because continuous connectivity allows infrastructure experts working from a knowledge base to deliver the highest level of support. They are able to continually collect and analyze data from key parameters and transform that information into an actionable plan. This remote diagnosis allows service technicians to be more informed and armed with the correct parts needed to fix a problem before they are dispatched to your site.

Ultimately, with remote UPS and battery monitoring, the time needed to restore a UPS to operation is much less than with a sequential, time-based approach in which the simple awareness of an event can exceed eight hours. Having the ability to detect potential problems early and rapidly respond to defects or degradation maximizes the reliability of UPS battery systems and gives you the adaptability needed in today’s dynamic data centers.

As business dependence on data center systems increases and more emphasis is placed on availability and reliability of critical power systems, data center managers must know how to best avoid downtime which means understanding the service life of your UPS batteries and implementing best practices in preventive maintenance. With a comprehensive preventive maintenance program that includes remote monitoring services, you’ll more likely reduce your stress level, avert costly downtime, and best of all, keep your job!

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3 Comments

  1. Sean

    Fantastic write up, if only everyone knew how important battery maintenance was

  2. Nice article! Maintenance of your batteries is indeed very important and often underestimated. Proper maintenance not only keeps batteries in a good condition, it can also extend their lifespan.

  3. S cocco

    How much AC is acceptable in the a DC charging system? IE, a rectifier that is passing ac on a 12vdc system? I have a charging system that is passing 12v ac to a lead acid battery The battery is not lasting, is it the AC? causing the problem.