Powering Your Campus
Disaster planning before it is needed makes good sense.
- By Bill Allen
- Jan 01, 2012
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.
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.
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.