Brian Hanking is the CTO of Canara.
No matter how “high tech” your data center, there is a high likelihood that the backup power system of your critical facility is completely dependent on room full of batteries. Data center surveys have shown that anywhere between 65 percent to as high as 85 percent of unplanned downtime can be attributed to battery failure of some kind. This means your facility is almost certainly at the mercy of a room full of what basically remains 1800’s technology.
It only takes a single unit failure within a string of lead acid batteries to make that entire string useless so it follows that even several strings of batteries need only have a few bad units scattered throughout it to render the entire emergency power system useless. Even when monitored locally, battery monitoring systems typically produce a tsunami of data points but very rarely if ever do they have the intelligence to put the data together to give useful actionable insights. The result is that the battery room and related backup power infrastructure still remain one of the most opaque components of a critical facility.
Today there is a much better option in how to use this technology and dramatically improve the process for understanding your batteries, identifying vulnerabilities, predicting failures and ultimately avoiding downtime. The combination of advanced sensors and predictive analytics have proven to be incredibly effective at keeping important machines up and running in other fields by providing clear, actionable alerts about when interventions, maintenance and pre-emptive repairs should be done.
So what does a more effective battery strategy look like?
Decide What You are Going to Do With the Data
It seems obvious, but knowing what you are going to do with the data is the very first step you should take. Are you going to have a battery expert looking at the data on a daily basis to determine alarms as well as determining asset life or are you merely going to feed basic alarm information to the building management system.
Select Your System
There are several systems in the marketplace today and it seems a new one pops up every week. It seems superfluous to say but any monitoring system has to be more reliable than the system it is monitoring. Once you have selected a system to suit your needs consider the company who makes it, how long they have been in business and how long the product itself has been in the field. Ask for references from other users.
Install the System
Very often overlooked, but make sure that the system you choose is being installed by someone who has a vested interest in that system working correctly for you. Ensure also that the contractor considers servicing access to the batteries when installing. The installation step is as important as selecting the right equipment. There are many good systems that are being ignored today simply due to bad installation practices which have rendered a very expensive investment useless due to it alarming falsely until it becomes a nuisance and then very quickly, a boat anchor.
Consider Your Alarm Limits
It would be much simpler if every battery had a one simple set of parameters however the reality is that these parameters vary from battery manufacturer and battery model. There are many considerations, from simple float voltage to the temperature compensated settings of the rectifier being used. The alarms can signal issues with string voltage, unit voltage, impedance, ambient temperature, unit temperature, ripple and record discharge. These alarm limits have different priorities, ranging from lower priority maintenance pointers to more immediate critical issues. So which are the important ones? All of them. If unsure, talk to the battery manufacturer about what limits to set alarms to.
Turn Data Into Knowledge with Predictive Analytics
This is definitely the most efficient and effective way to use your monitoring equipment. You have invested a large sum of money to purchase and install a monitoring system so why not get the most out of it? Certainly you could have your own staff check for simple alarms (or more likely be notified on the email alarm list) but why not have an expert look at the data every day and collate that data and have them use predictive analytics to give you many more benefits, including earlier warning of possible issues, more assured uptime, elimination of false alarms, flagging of additional issues, extending useful battery life, enabling better asset management and assistance with warranty claims.
Batteries and critical backup power systems can and do fail. There is no avoiding that fact but monitoring and predictive analytics can have a dramatic effect on identifying warning signs early and eliminating problems before they occur.
Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.