Powering Your Campus

Powering Your Campus

Disaster planning before it is needed makes good sense.

By the time disaster strikes, it is too late to take many of the important steps to protect a campus. Unfortunately, many educational institutions overlook disaster preparedness planning or simply assume a calamity won’t happen on their campus. That’s a risky assumption, given what’s at stake.

According to business continuity authorities and disaster recovery surveys and statistics, the single largest reason for network and other systems failure is a power outage. Obviously, planning for power outages is critical in any disaster prevention or recovery plan. All network, security and communications components, whether local or at a remote site, must be connected to a readily available and dependable power source. Power protection and the management of backup power is an absolutely essential component in contingency planning for a campus.

Power failures can strike at any time and for many reasons: the travails that Mother Nature dishes out, unexpected construction accidents, a utility pole taken out by a careless driver, equipment failure or even sabotage by a disgruntled employee or outside group. No matter the cause, campus personnel must be ready when disaster strikes. In general, the cost of downtime and recovery from a disaster can be many times more than the cost of putting a plan in place, and purchasing the necessary solutions to prevent disaster can easily pay for themselves even in a brief power outage.

Developing a Contingency Plan

A contingency plan must contain detailed roles, responsibilities, teams and procedures associated with maintaining network, security and communications systems, both during and after a disruption. It also should document technical capabilities to support contingency operations. The contingency plan also should be tailored to an organization’s ongoing and future requirements.

Contingency plans that account for short-term activities during a brief power outage are typically covered by a standard uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which bridges the gap until power is restored. A strong contingency plan will ensure power availability through an extended power outage. In this scenario, using a UPS in combination with an external battery pack should be considered. The decision to use either of these two choices is dependent on how critical the system is to maintaining business continuity.

Identifying Priorities

Developing a plan to prevent business disruption begins with prioritizing campus functions that absolutely must be maintained during a power outage. The systems and data that support these functions must then be thoroughly inventoried.

This process determines which systems and applications take priority when it comes to what will be protected with a UPS and how much time is required to maintain the application, or the length of time to safely bring down a system. This will also allow for better planning in terms of budgeting the cost of backing up these systems with a UPS.

Protecting Data Centers

It’s an understatement to say that a company’s networking system is critical. Fully integrated and interdependent networks rely on continuity across the entire system to operate properly. For most educational institutions, the network is a complicated, totally missioncritical element of the enterprise, whether it’s a local or wide area.

Servers provide the fuel to drive applications, while bridges, routers, wireless hubs and other peripheral devices provide the connectivity to service the users on the network. When these devices do not have power, the network is not fully functional, and in most cases, not functional at all.

These days the network serves as more than just a host-to-client file service; it is the backbone on which telecommunications systems may operate, along with security and fire alarm systems, in addition to accounting, attendance systems and Internet and e-mail traffic. Without a reliable source of power, critical functions come to a screeching halt if they are not properly backed up by an alternative power source. And let us not forget the importance of having desktop PCs and laptops available during both brief and extended power outages.

Backing Up Security Systems

While some administrators think first of IT continuity during a power outage, a security system is equally important to maintain and protect normal campus operations, especially during a crisis. The two main reasons for installing and using a security system are to protect an institution’s assets and, more importantly, to protect students and staff.

When power fails and an entire security system becomes inoperable due to no power backup solutions, it leaves a campus, its students and its employees vulnerable in many critical ways.

When an access control system goes down, entering or exiting facilities may not be possible. When security cameras and DVRs go down, the ability to monitor facilities during a crisis is gone. When a fire alarm system is not properly backed up with a UPS, that’s serious business. Emergency communications systems also cannot run without adequate backup power. Liability issues quickly come into play when security systems do not operate.

Having enough backup power to support these critical functions through an extended power outage is essential. Simply put, when a security system goes down, there is no security. Managers of security systems should realize the need for not only using power protection, but also adopting strategies that provide lengthy backup time in the case of an extended emergency.

Connecting Telecommunications

A company’s data and telecommunications connection is a lifeline to the outside world, most especially during an emergency and power outage. Not being able to communicate to customers, connect with mission-critical applications, or reach out to branch locations, employees or even emergency services, is a major risk and a potential liability.

A UPS enables continued communications through a power outage, and extended runtime battery packs provide more power that is necessary during extended power failure incidents.

Powering the Contingency Plan

Once a company has detailed its contingency plans and identified power-critical vulnerabilities, it can then assess its requirements for power protection. This may include understanding the level and amount of power needed at a facility or across an enterprise, the duration of the required power supply, and even how many assets and locations need to be covered.

Power protection in the form of a UPS has been around for several decades now, yet surveys find that up to 60 percent of small businesses do not have adequate power protection.

UPSs do protect against all types of power problems, from sudden spikes or surges to brownouts and electrical noise. Not to minimize the importance of protecting from these potential equipment- damaging problems, the battery backup function provided by a backup system is perhaps the most crucial. Certainly, all power glitches can cause serious damage, but things change dramatically when power fails.

There are three types of UPSs: standby, line-interactive and online. With a standby UPS—sometimes called “off-line”—as voltage sags or the power fails, a battery-powered inverter immediately turns on to continue to supply power. Even while power is coming directly from the A/C outlet, the UPS provides protection from voltage spikes and surges.

A line-interactive UPS offers protection from spikes, surges and brownouts by regulating the incoming voltage. By using voltage regulation, correcting the voltage is accomplished without accessing the batteries. This provides continuous power conditioning, promotes longer battery life and eliminates electronic noise that can cause minor application errors and loss of data.

Online UPSs provide the highest level of power protection by using a double-conversion technique. UPS takes the incoming A/C power and recreates it by converting the voltage to direct current. During this conversion process, the online UPS conditions the power to eliminate noise, sags or surges and, finally, converts the power back to A/C before it exits and powers the attached equipment. Since the power runs continuously through the inverter, there is no transfer or switching time to battery mode in the event of a blackout.

When it comes to protecting vital equipment such as servers, telecommunications systems and security systems, a UPS ensures that these hardware devices are available and fully functional to support crucial applications. Ensuring the safe and reliable flow of power is really about protecting a company’s assets, its products and services, its revenue stream, its employees and facilities, and ultimately its reputation and bottom line.

This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Security Today.


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