Emerging Tech

Consider power line conditioning for additional protection

Whenever technology is deployed outside of a datacenter, sometimes an uninterruptable power supply isn't enough. IT pro Rick Vanover shares experience leveraging power line conditioning systems.

In the course of deploying IT solutions, we occasionally need to take our technology out of the datacenter. This can be for a remote location which needs server and storage resources or for whatever reason is not located in the datacenter. In my work experience, I had to frequently deploy solutions in remote locations and away from the standard protections of the typical datacenter.

One thing that I observed is that these remote locations did not always have the best power for these servers and storage resources. The power may have been available, meaning that it did not go out frequently; but I frequently ran into situations where the running voltage was significantly higher or lower than the standard outputs associated with 120 or 230 Volt power. This meant that while the power was supposed to be 120 Volts, I remember environments where it would run at 136 or 140 Volts, which is much higher than the expected input. The unfortunate aspect of power that is out of normal range, especially when higher, is that dual input power supplies may not immediately reject the input source. Further, this situation is exasperated when electronic equipment can detect power anomalies. My experience was with PBX telephone equipment and barcode scanners that were having serious issues with power that was out of the normal voltage range.

When I had to deploy solutions to situations with power like this, I would implement a power line conditioning system to combat this situation. A power line conditioning system will take power from a very wide range of inputs and provide out a clean 120 or 230 Volt power source. Further, if a UPS battery would be in use, I would put that behind the line conditioning system to give the ultimate in power protection to solutions deployed outside of a traditional datacenter where these benefits are standard.

Power line conditioning can come in two main ways, one is via a standalone power line conditioner and the other is a UPS battery that provides line conditioning as well. I’ve used both in my experiences, preferring the separate devices. One example is the Tripp-Lite LCR2400; which is a rack-mount unit that would work with my requirements of having a solution contained in a rack.

Have you ever used power line conditioning as part of your deployment kit when IT needs to have a footprint outside of a datacenter? What strategies have you used for the ultimate power protection? Share your comments below.

About

Rick Vanover is a software strategy specialist for Veeam Software, based in Columbus, Ohio. Rick has years of IT experience and focuses on virtualization, Windows-based server administration, and system hardware.

22 comments
y2ktoou
y2ktoou

when I worked at the Golden Gate Bridge Transit district in the 90's, the computer (IBM XT) that operated the Southbound message sign which the security dept controlled required a power conditioner because the voltage swung so much not even a UPS would work. The computer sat in a metal box on a cement slab just a few feet from this sign. An incandescent light bulb was plugged into the outlet this computer shared and it would swing back and forth from bright to dim. Keep in mind the bridge is 1.7 miles in length and getting AC power to the north end is not easy and wasn't necessary when the bridge was first built. This message board has since been replaced with one with LED's.

steve_nguru
steve_nguru

I work in Kenya, and power quality is poor in a lot of places. Cost is 'the' key factor and so the general trend here is initially to install a double conversion ups unit, (the cheaper kind without input transformers, etc), and later an AVR in the following financial year, or after power smokes out the UPS. The AVR's primary role then becomes protecting the UPS, whose repair costs are viewed as "steep" by majority of clients. So I guess customer education and acceptance to standards is still in its infancy in these parts.

sweetings
sweetings

After reading the article and then the comments, I feel that I have to agree with Robo Dev. A couple of other points are to consult a true power specialist when setting up a system and to review the specs for the connected hardware before purchase - all equipment should withstand variations in both voltage and frequency, both permanently and short term.

mike
mike

Do they still use swinging choke transformers? I used these (Cetronics I think) in a mill which spun artificial fibre: thousands of 2kw heaters on simple on/off thermostats. If you scoped the input supply it looked like pure white noise at 400V and a Dranetz power analyzer gave up after a couple of minutes. What I got out was pure 240V sine (I'm in England) no fancy electronics and they just went on and on and on...

skispcs
skispcs

I use dual online conversion UPSs. Vastly better than your standard line interactive at eliminating power issues.

Justin James
Justin James

Look, you can get a good, low power dual conversion unit for a few hundred dollars more than a cheap "footstool" standby unit or even a low end line interactive unit. Why in the world would you put a server on anything less? It's not the hardware, it's the downtime and engineer time to replace a unit trashed by a cheaper UPS. I have a PowerWare 9135 here in my house, and it is so much better than the APC SmartUPS 2200 that it replaced, when the power goes down there is ZERO indication of an issue... on the SmartUPS, screens would flicker, fans would slow, you *knew* something was happening. I won't use anything less than dual conversion unless it is for something that doesn't matter too much, like a fish tank filter... J.Ja

robo_dev
robo_dev

The better main point may be that there are three main types of UPS units: 1) The cheap ones are called Standby Power Supplies 2) The very good ones are known as Line Interactive Power Supplies 3) The very best are known as 'Double Conversion" or "Online UPS" The author is advocating using a separate device, a line conditioner unit, along with a simple standby UPS to achieve effectively the same result as #3, above. (Although it can be argued that solution #2 is perfectly adequate for many applications, and it may be more costly or introduce more points of failure to have more devices in the rack with a separate device). Many consumer-grade UPS units are little more than a battery and a relay that kicks in when the power goes out. They do nothing if there is a long surge or a long sag, except perhaps beep, smoke, or goto battery and fall over. The Line interactive UPS does help out with sags and over-voltage. The most common Line Interactive UPS I work with all the time is the APC SmartUPS series. These units that do automatic voltage regulation (AVR) and can effectively lower a persistent over-voltage or under-voltage input condition, as well as deal with noise, surges, and so forth. For example, in my home server rack I have a pair of APC 1500VA SmartUPS units with a APC transfer switch on the output side of the UPS units (this allows one UPS to run til it's dead, then the other kicks in, plus I can take either unit offline anytime). APC line-interactive units, like similar units from TrippLite, CyberPower, and others, feed the AC line power through a transformer at all times, and if, for example, the line voltage jumps to 160V, the unit switches off some transformer windings, thereby reducing the input voltage to a level it can safely regulate. It can do the same thing on under-voltage, although there is a point where it needs to switch in the battery power if voltage is too low. However, under normal conditions, there is a direct (although surge protected) path to utility power. One limitation of Line Interactive UPS units is that they are not ideally suited for using with generators and 'true online' UPS units provide better power isolation from external power events. Personally I've found that a line interactive UPS is perfectly adequate for the sites that I have setup, and there was not a need for an additional device. That being said, sometimes there are locations that have special needs, or are more difficult. If this was a medical office with a five million dollar cat scan machine, it would need an online UPS.

bboyd
bboyd

Power line conditioning is really the venue of plant/building engineering. If good specifications are given to them the power provided and what types of loads a significant reduction in power cost and increase in quality can happen. Independent power conditioning is good in small scale applications and probably worth spending a more significant part of the hardware budget that is normal.

b4real
b4real

Thanks for sharing.

b4real
b4real

That is why a point solution is sometimes OK.

b4real
b4real

As sometimes the technology needs to go out of the datacenter.

robo_dev
robo_dev

You mostly see this in big power filtering devices used in industrial settings, like you mention. Power filtering gets really interesting once you start putting some huge inductive loads like electric motors and electric heaters or welders on the circuit.

b4real
b4real

Does the SmartUPS 2200 do conversion also? I didn't think it did active conditioning, just spike protection.

robo_dev
robo_dev

Often the price differential can be quite a lot higher. I am an APC fan, and the cost is roughly double to go from a line-interactive unit like a SmartUPS 1500 rack mount (about $400) to a Dual Conversion for roughly $1,000 USD. PC and server power supplies can put up with a lot of power events, and critical servers have redundant power supplies, of course. So when there is a tight budget, my experience has been that line interactive is perfectly good.

b4real
b4real

Sometimes standalone solutions are adequate.

alexisgarcia72
alexisgarcia72

Very good explanation. We at our office have an Online UPS. Is a Symmetra 32KVA UPS. No matter how bad is the power conditions in the input, at the output, I always have a clean - perfect 127 VAC. This is very nice for servers, cisco equipment and delicated equipment. And not everything ends here, everything is redundant so this unit is X+1 fault tolerant.

b4real
b4real

It may cost way too much to condition the entire room (take out the extreme power variance I mentioned) for maybe just one sensitive system, like a phone system/PBX.

deskhero
deskhero

I think you are referring to CVT s technical name is ferroresonant transformers or constant voltage transformers invented in1938 but still very relevant. Basically a tuned circuit that is resonant at 50Hz ( or 60 Hz in US ) , extremely heavy - 40kg for a 2KVA unit - the good news is there is nothing to wear out and it is all passive components - very rugged - so is good for taking out lightning and other surges, it will even hold up if the power drops out for a couple of cycles. Cetronic, General Transformer and other folk make them. These are an excellent investment - used a lot for industrial control systems to clean up interference from heavy machinery.

Justin James
Justin James

I believe it does conditioning... but let me tell you, when that cutover happened, it sure wasn't doing conditioning, it was clearly having a DEEP brownout followed by a big spike. You could hear the relay clicking over, it was obviously dropping voltage during the transition. It didn't ever cause me problems, but it was obvious that it could. J.Ja

Justin James
Justin James

... but I don't touch a single piece of equipment, other than some of the stuff in my home office (say, my Vonage box which I could sub in my cell phone for until it was replaced, a generic cheap switch that a trip to Best Buy can take care of, my speakers, etc.) that is less valuable than the price gap. The opportunity cost of downtime is huge for nearly all of the boxes I touch, so I really can't justify "savings" to take a chance with low end stuff. J.Ja

b4real
b4real

As not everything needs full line conditioning, and basic UPS units provide some protection.

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