UPS systems are a key part of colocation data centers. Let us review the functions they perform and consider the effect of new battery technology, cyber-crime, and AI on these critical systems.

Since even a momentary loss of power can disrupt the flow of data, Uninterruptible Power Supplies are the most critical sub-system in a data center. They provide a continuous source of clean power to IT equipment. When an interruption of power from the electric company occurs, the UPS system immediately takes over. UPS power keeps IT systems operating until the data center’s generators come online. Then, generators maintain power until the utility restores power.

Causes Most Data Center Outages

A recent study by the Ponemon Institute reported that UPS failures are the most common cause of data center downtime. UPS failures often result from poor electrical connections. Vibrations caused by mechanical systems such as rotating power supply fans and air conditioning systems can loosen connections over time. The best way to avoid UPS failures is to perform preventive maintenance at least twice a year. During maintenance, an inspection of all electrical connections should take place. Inspection and replacement of air filters should also occur, and capacitors and batteries replaced as needed.

The UPS room is the noisiest place at our Shelton colocation data center. More than 100 lead-acid batteries are stacked from floor-to-ceiling in a large cinder-block room that was not designed to dampen sound waves. The noise is caused by the air conditioning systems and fans that operate continuously to keep the batteries and electrical components cool.

New Battery Technology

Uninterruptible power supply technology is evolving. UPS batteries are now available with varied materials and performance characteristics. Most data centers still employ UPS systems with lead-acid batteries. Though these batteries are highly dependable and cost-effective, lithium-ion and nickel-cadmium batteries offer superior power density. They require less space, have longer runtimes, and can operate at higher temperatures. Building a new data center may justify investment in batteries incorporating newer materials. However, most data centers will keep their lead-acid batteries until more capacity is required and/or they run out of space.

Exposure to cyber security breaches is a growing problem. Historically, UPS systems were not network-attached. As such, they were immune from cyber-attacks. Today many data centers have installed tools that monitor UPS systems continuously to issue alerts when problems occur. These tools, though valuable for increasing UPS availability, also can increase the risk of a breach if care is not taken to secure all outward facing Internet ports.

AI Stresses UPS Systems

The growth of Artificial Intelligence impacts UPS systems. AI applications typically consume a lot more power than other workloads. As a colocation data center installs more AI clients, the total power consumed will rise. Also, the way AI applications consume power differs from other applications. With AI, power demand can increase dramatically at any time. “Step Load” increases, or instantaneous changes in power demand, are more frequent with AI workloads. UPS systems must be able to fulfill peak power demands. As Artificial Intelligence applications proliferate in a data center, the capacity of UPS and generator systems should increase their capacity to support the increase of peak power demand. Higher power demands will also put stress on the UPS system’s batteries and other components, reducing their effective service life.

Colocation data centers employ different systems to provide secure, dependable, and cost-effective hosting services. UPS systems may be the single most important system in a data center. Though these systems are based on mature technology, changes in other technologies such as AI are having a significant impact on the future of UPS.