The future is crystal clear - Lead Crystal Batteries (LCBs) will protect hospitals from outages

Andy Parfitt, sales director at Harland Simon UPS, explains how developments in battery technology can help hospitals restore costly server room/data centre operations and power them towards a more cost-effective, energy-efficient and resilient future

Andy Parfitt

In an increasingly digitised and data-centric environment, it is vital for hospitals to stay constantly connected to power.

As such, hospitals are becoming heavily reliant on their server room or data centre operations to ensure that daily operations can continue as efficiently as possible.

With the stakes so high, and investment in UPS systems so widespread, it’s strange to think that hospitals could allow something as trivial as a battery to trip them up

It’s a costly exercise – but it’s critical. One of the most-persistent challenges hospitals face is the battle to protect against unexpected power outages. Downtime can have a major impact on not just productivity, but also on crucial activities such as logging and retrieving patient data.

As hospitals are increasingly operating in ‘internet time’, even a momentary loss of data can have far-reaching repercussions. Hospitals and health centres, large and small, invest substantial sums in Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) systems to safeguard against outage. However, even the most-effective systems can become unhinged by the most low-tech component of any UPS: the battery.

As IT managers battle the intense heat of business objectives to contain costs and meet ‘green’ requirements, many are increasing the temperature in the server room/data centre to minimise air conditioning, restrict energy costs, and reduce carbon footprint. But the impact of increased heat on the humble battery can make the approach counter-productive. Suboptimal performance from this low-profile element of innovative UPS systems can inadvertently leave organisations expensively exposed. It’s a well-known challenge, but the well-known solution – Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) – may be misaligned with modern business imperatives. A better solution, however, is becoming crystal clear… it’s time for hospitals to consider making the move from traditional Lead Acid to Lead Crystal Batteries (LCB).

Failing the acid test

The primary cause of unplanned outage is UPS battery failure - it’s responsible for more than a third of all UPS failures during the system’s lifecycle

The financial cost of unplanned data outage is significant. A 2013 report by the Ponemon Institute calculated the cost of unplanned outage to be more than $7,900 a minute. The true cost, in a world where daily operations are increasingly reliant on a connection to power, is even more impactful, irrespective of hospital size. In such an environment, the loss of data can have substantial human implications. With the stakes so high, and investment in UPS systems so widespread, it’s strange to think that hospitals could allow something as trivial as a battery to trip them up. And yet, despite their best efforts to maintain and test battery life, many succumb to the problem. The primary cause of unplanned outage is UPS battery failure - it’s responsible for more than a third of all UPS failures during the system’s lifecycle.

The organisational thermostat

Like every hospital division in the era of austerity, IT managers are under renewed pressure to find operational efficiencies in the data centre or server room setting. Success requires a focus on resilience and business continuity – and UPSes provide robust reassurance in that regard. However, the driver for efficiency also dictates the need to optimise space, conserve energy and meet corporate responsibility commitments to reduce the carbon footprint. The latter two objectives go hand in hand - by conserving power, the damage to the environment similarly reduces.

Behind maintenance, which accounts for almost 60% of the cost of running a server/data room, one of the biggest overheads is the cost of air conditioning. Computer rooms are hot environments and, as such, companies commonly use air conditioning or cold aisle coolers to protect server equipment by keeping low ambient temperatures. The price of the air conditioning, and the inherent impact on the environment, is anything but cool.

In recent years the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers has incrementally revised the recommended allowable temperatures for defined data centres – with maximum high-end temperatures moving from 25°C in 2004 to 45°C by 2011. As the recommendations are implemented globally, the use of air conditioning units has reduced and energy consumption has fallen.

While hospitals can spend exorbitant amounts of time and money monitoring battery life, the implications of replacing batteries when an issue is identified cannot be overestimated

On the face of it this is great news. However, there is a major drawback: the increase in temperatures has a detrimental impact on the life of LABs. In many cases, a Lead Acid Battery, designed to protect a system across its 10-year lifecycle will only last 2.1 years at +40°C, and less than 2 years at +45°C. This not only increases the risk of unexpected failure; it invites all the associated disruption, cost and downtime of a planned outage to replace the existing batteries. While hospitals can spend exorbitant amounts of time and money monitoring battery life, the implications of replacing batteries when an issue is identified cannot be overestimated.

In response, some hospitals have looked to relocate the batteries outside of the data centre environment to help optimise space and bolster server infrastructure. However, to work optimally, Lead Acid Batteries must be maintained at a low ambient temperature – which means the new location itself must have effective air conditioning. In effect, it’s the efficiency equivalent of giving with one hand only to take away with the other. Additionally, more equipment is being decentralised and located into remote communications cabinets throughout hospitals, such as to support VoIP communications. These cabinets have no air conditioning, but still need local UPS and battery support to ensure the distributed equipment continues to work under mains failure conditions.

As clear as crystal

The deployment of LCBs can undoubtedly deliver substantial cost savings and, essentially, ensure hospitals are equipped to keep operations running smoothly and therefore avoid the risk of patient safety and backlog that would undoubtedly come with a power failure

And so IT managers continue to grapple with seemingly-divergent challenges only to find that, in the perceived absence of an alternative, they naturally gravitate back to Lead Acid Batteries. But the solution is, quite literally, as clear as crystal - lead crystal.

Lead Crystal Batteries (LCBs), a relatively-recent introduction to the UK (but proven over many years of installation in Africa and Far East), promise a much-longer life than traditional solutions – lasting 3-5 times longer than VRLA. More importantly, the technology behind LCBs means that they can withstand extreme temperatures from -40°C to +65°C. Although extreme heat naturally impacts battery life, LCBs can easily deliver a service life of at least 7.5 years at a continuous +40°C.

There are multiple implications for IT managers. Primarily, hospitals can reliably mitigate the risk of unplanned power outage. In addition, IT staff can increase the ambient temperature of computer rooms without having a significantly detrimental effect on battery life, or the UPS and batteries can be located in remote non air conditioned environments. This can, in turn, reduce both energy bills and carbon footprints. Moreover, LCBs can minimise the disruption of replacement downtime and the associated costs of disposal.

Thankfully, the future is here. There’s no longer any need for a crystal ball – a crystal battery can recharge the data centre/server room environment, safely, reliably and cost effectively

The deployment of LCBs can undoubtedly deliver substantial cost savings and, essentially, ensure hospitals are equipped to keep operations running smoothly and therefore avoid the risk of patient safety and backlog that would undoubtedly come with a power failure. Thankfully, the future is here. There’s no longer any need for a crystal ball – a crystal battery can recharge the data centre/server room environment, safely, reliably and cost effectively.

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