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Leading technology is only half the battle for a reliable disaster recovery solution.

Leading systems integrators and value-added resellers (VARs) pride themselves on providing their clients with best-of-breed technologies that offer cutting edge data backup and disaster recovery solutions. Working with vendors and specialty distributors, systems integrators and VARs work hard to ensure that their clients are satisfied with IT solutions that serve as the backbone of any business.

But cutting edge technology alone is really just half the equation for any business continuity or disaster recovery solution. If there is no backup power source available to make the technology work, then chances are that all that best-of-breed technology means nothing for your client. And forget battery packs. Although they're fine for short power outages, they will not handle the load for any extended power outage.

But then again, this is the 21st century, the information age, whatever you want to call it. Surely there is no chance of the lights going out for any extended period of time. Our power grid is also hooked up to the latest energy resource technology capable of withstanding any fallible situation, right? Wrong.

Threatening Weather

Days before Hurricane Katrina unleashed devastation on parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, the considerably "weaker" storm caused significant flooding and damage to parts of South Florida. The tropical region--an area filled with banks and other businesses in a variety of industries--suffered flooding and power outages in many parts and for almost an entire week, parts of South Florida were without power in the hot, humid days of late summer. The downed power proved costly for many businesses, which lost critical data, financial records and customer account information as a result of stagnant IT centers.

And although thousands of IT professionals had a quick wake-up call two years ago when 50 million people in the Northeast spent the night in one of the largest blackouts in recent memory, we were once again reminded of the importance of backup power during last year's hurricane season, sizzling summer and arctic winter being felt throughout the country. Bottom line: Every part of the country is faced with a daily threat of power grid failure for an extended period of time.

In any power outage caused by threatening weather or power grid failure, area residents turn from annoyed to frustrated and finally to scared, while local business centers struggle to continue operations under an intense amount of confusion. And even businesses with seamless, well-thought-out emergency plans can be ill prepared for the "real thing."

Power Grid Weakness

The power grid has been a large concern over the years since demand has placed an immense amount of stress on the system. An increase in the number of users and aging transmission lines has caused frequent "brownouts" in areas throughout North America.

IT professionals must plan accordingly and include a backup power resource into their business continuity strategy. And now that the entire business infrastructure is tied to large computer networks, it is even more important to ensure a constant flow of supplemental power throughout the facility, no matter how long the grid is down. Moreover, in an era of heightened scrutiny regarding computer breaches and identity theft, it is imperative that businesses of all size have a continuous power supply to fuel networks and financial security systems.

Business Insurance

In general, businesses should be equipped with generators that are between 40- and 80-kW in power capacity. This level of power output is generally what is needed to run basic functions including computers, back office, lighting, etc. Additionally, voice and data cards installed by phone systems operators should also be attached to the generator. For example, if the T-1 line goes down there will be no connectivity to the outside world, most likely crippling a business for days. Generators of this size range anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000, not including accessories such as fuel tanks and transfer switches.

IT professionals should understand that a successful backup power system is more than just a generator itself. A high quality transfer switch and enough fuel are just as critical as the generator. Transfer switches are the components that transfer the distribution of power from the traditional source to the generator when the power is interrupted or knocked out entirely. A quality transfer switch can eliminate down time from power grid loss to generator start-up. Also, higher quality transfer switches let owners operate the generator remotely, which can prove beneficial if the location cannot be accessed because of damaged roads, bridges, downed power lines, etc. Since today's businesses are dependent on large computer systems, having a reliable transfer switch that immediately links over to the backup generator is one of the most critical elements to the entire system.

There are different kinds of fuel available to power a variety of generators. Most run on either propane, natural gas or diesel. Propane and natural gas consume more than diesel, but with propane, owners will have to bury a tank. Natural gas generators usually cost about twice as much as diesel. Diesel is probably the most cost-efficient method. However, most diesel generators carry a fuel capacity of between 24 and 72 hours, so owners will need to make accommodations for additional fuel delivery during extended power outages.

Despite all the recent attention surrounding the hurricanes, many businesses and enterprises are still without a reliable source of backup power. This can be very dangerous since most generator suppliers do not have inventory available for immediate delivery. In fact, for many suppliers, order fulfillment can take up to 36 weeks. Therefore, owners and managers will want to pay special attention to the supplier they engage with. Owners can research more about generators through the industry association, the Electrical Generating Systems Association (EGSA).

In every part of North America, businesses now need a certain level of "insurance" in order to face the frequent possibility of power loss. Although the first priority will always be to ensure data and financial record stability and security, those facilities that can provide continuous, high quality service and operations will experience the highest customer satisfaction marks. For this reason alone, IT managers, systems integrators and VARs must consider an uninterruptible power system centered on a backup power generator that has the capability of providing an adequate level of power for extended operating hours.

Eric Johnston is vice president of Americas Generators (Miami, FL).

RELATED ARTICLE: How to Determine Generator Requirements

Many computer devices have UPS devices attached to them to temporarily protect against blackouts, brownouts, sags, spikes, surges, and EMI/RFI noise. However, if you need to power your critical systems for an extended period of time a generator is a must. To determine your generator needs, take these steps:

Determine your need. Which devices must continue running off the generator--servers, storage, switches? Select only the most critical systems in case of extended power outage as well as managing generator fuel demands.

Determine the wattage for each device that must keep running and total the wattage. Use starting watts, not running watts, when determining the correct electrical load requirements. If you buy a generator purely on the strength of running watts, it will be underpowered.

Convert watts into kilowatts to determine the generator size required. Best practice is to size the generator 20-25% over the size you determine your needs to be. This will allow room for future growth--which invariably happens with computing equipment.

Generators do not take the place of ongoing data protection, but are an important weapon in your disaster recovery arsenal.
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Title Annotation:Value added resellers and leading system integrators
Author:Johnston, Eric
Publication:Computer Technology Review
Date:Jan 1, 2006
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