Advanced Power Technology (APT) was established in 1990 as an independent supplier of energy-efficient critical power and cooling systems, particularly for use in IT installations. Today, the company specialises in designing, building, and supporting mission-critical data centres, server rooms and communications rooms.
As an Elite Partner of Schneider Electric, APT has significant experience and expertise in the design and upgrade of critical facilities using the vendor’s integrated data centre physical infrastructure equipment and management software.
Based on its technical competence and engineering know-how, APT has built long term relationships with customers in the commercial and industrial sectors as well as with finance and banking businesses. It is a recognised supplier to local government, education and healthcare service providers with whom APT has considerable expertise built over thirty years of successful operations.
APT Evolving to Serve Changing Market Requirements
The digital transformation of processes and services has been an important journey in the delivery of e-Government, healthcare and education. Data centres have never been more essential to the reliable provision of everything from bin collections to patient records and university courses. From their initial entry to this business ensuring that IT servers and server rooms are available, APT has extended its reach to provide a holistic service including the design, build and management of scalable and efficient, state-of-the-art facilities based upon Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure for Data Centre architecture.
While physical infrastructure is a core component of APT’s offering, increasingly customers are turning to the company for support with the ongoing monitoring and management of their data centres and distributed IT. For example, an important part of APT’s service has been the maintenance of UPS systems at customer sites. This includes the lead-acid (VRLA) UPS batteries, which come into play immediately if there is a mains power disruption, must be inspected regularly to ensure they are fit for purpose and replaced in a timely manner as they approach their end of life.
Batteries, Essential for Critical Systems’ Uptime & Availability
There are many factors that affect the operation of a battery, from the environment in which it is stored to the way it is cycled (charged and discharged). It is vitally important that the battery system is sized according to the load and the runtime required to enable for either a graceful and controlled shutdown of equipment or, where it is mission-critical, for services to be supported whilst secondary power generation is brought online.
A UPS system may fail at the very moment when it is called upon to react to a mains outage if e.g., it has insufficient power capacity to support an increased IT load in an expanding data centre, or if the battery malfunctions. Avoiding such an eventuality is vital for APT’s customers, many of whom operate life-critical applications in hospitals and local authorities.
Managing Uptime via Remote Monitoring at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital
Traditionally, post-sales maintenance has required personnel to make regular visits to customer sites, typically every six months or, at the minimum, annually. During such inspections, engineers physically check the inventory of installed systems, ensure they are properly rated and functioning adequately by testing the cells, and verify the battery’s performance, condition and anticipated remaining operating life. A lot depends on getting access to the cells, which is not always a given in the space-constrained rooms where battery systems are typically housed.
Things can easily go wrong with this approach, as happened at Birmingham Women and Children’s NHS Trust when UPSs failed under test, despite a preventative maintenance programme which had been in place over the long term by a third party. With nearly 100 UPSs in operation, distributed in remote edge locations as well as the main production data centres at the Trust, annual visits coupled with physical checks proved to be ineffective for verifying either the performance or protection available from the backup systems.
The resulting outage was discussed at the board level with a decision taken to improve resilience to lower the risk of future outages. When invited to submit their ideas, APT led with a monitoring service using Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT Expert, next-generation Data Centre Infrastructure Management (DCIM) software, to provide the hospital with real-time updates about the status of the UPS and battery systems – including their available runtime.
APT – from engineering-led to managed service partner
Schneider Electric’s EcoStruxure IT Expert enables APT to deliver services including the ongoing remote monitoring of UPSs and batteries. This provides customers visibility of their own assets, together with better and more timely information about the status of installed infrastructure as well as providing operational insights. At the same time, this new software-based approach has enabled APT to streamline the operation of its own business, add new customer offers and transform the services they provide to be more efficient and profitable.
EcoStruxure IT Expert makes use of network-enabled sensors, now a commonplace item integrated with all types of IT systems and data centre infrastructure assets, to gather location and status information about where products are located, their environmental and operating conditions, their maintenance schedules and whether they are in need of urgent attention. Such data can be centrally managed and analysed to gain further insights into the optimum operation of an installation.
“Many customers have sprawling IT domains with comms rooms and legacy on-premise servers in multiple locations and even on different sites,” says John Thompson, managing director of APT. “We are used to having to go on long walks around customer sites, taking photographs and jotting down serial numbers so that we could report where equipment was located and find out its age. With batteries, for example, we would make a visual inspection for any obvious problems such as leaks and corrosion, and then make recommendations as to whether cells needed replacing or advising if the room needed additional environmental management or cooling.”
With EcoStruxure IT Expert, that task can now be performed instantaneously and visibility over an entire site’s infrastructure is possible using a smartphone – the sort of technology most people have in their pockets. The software can send timely reminders of maintenance schedules, such as the replacement of UPS batteries nearing their end of life. Importantly, it can alert users to emerging problems manifested by dangerous overheating, overloading of systems or the malfunction of components, so that remedial action can take place.
The benefits to customers are obvious. Having a permanent software-controlled view of their infrastructure reduces the chance of a malfunctioning or overloaded asset causing a problem between regular maintenance visits. Ongoing monitoring of a component’s performance provides insight into its operating life, so that servicing can be organised to minimise unplanned downtime and budgets can be better managed.
“Essentially,” continues John Thompson, “servicing can take place and parts replaced when it is required rather than because it has been scheduled arbitrarily – as happens with annual preventative maintenance programmes. Working with customers, we can proactively develop upgrade paths and activities so that both capital spend and operating expenses can be budgeted with no surprises.”
As well as guarding against outages, EcoStruxure IT Expert can also measure the power consumption of all assets, including cooling equipment, thereby enabling more efficient operation of a data centre from the point of view of electrical consumption. Such data is particularly helpful to operators in the calculation of metrics such as Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) which helps to manage their data centres in an efficient and environmentally friendly manner.
The cloud-based software requires no on-site installation. A secure browser interface is used to detect all network-enabled assets in a data centre and assemble details of their location and operation. The service is flexible enough to be useful for temporary installations, such as are often required during upgrades and extensions.
Cloud-based DCIM for temporary support and long-term customer value
When a general upgrade of the UPS systems at Airedale NHS Trust necessitated the temporary removal of In-Row air-conditioning units. Temporary cooling and power systems had to be put in place and monitored continuously to ensure that the data centre stayed operational throughout the upgrade period. EcoStruxure IT Expert was quickly installed on the temporary equipment which was monitored around the clock so that any potentially damaging increases in temperature could be rectified immediately.
EcoStruxure IT Expert also allows APT to tailor the service it provides to its customers, with the option of outsourced 24/7 monitoring typically delivered in partnership with Schneider Electric’s Connected Services Hub. An example of the efficiency and speed of response possible occurred with one of its customers, Newcastle City Council, when the Connected Services Hub, leveraging the EcoStruxure IT platform, detected a fault within one of the site’s power distribution units (PDUs).
The Hub detected the alarm, did some troubleshooting to identify the exact nature of the problem remotely and dispatched replacement parts accordingly. APT sent a maintenance engineer to the council site where the replacement was successfully performed, the whole operation being seamlessly carried out from start to finish.
More typically, however, APT uses the insights available through EcoStruxure IT to cement its role as a trusted advisor to its clients, delivering valuable on-going consultancy advice based on a deeper understanding of the assets in place and a more analytical approach to how the requirements of an installation will evolve during its active life.
“Our clients want more visibility and clarity,” says John Thompson. “They want more detail than just a yearly update. Because of the data now available to us from all parts of an installation we can help our clients build a roadmap of what they need going forward. This enables them to determine budget and resources, as well as make decisions based on data, identified requirements and optimal solutions. From our own perspective, it reduces the amount of work we need to do to gain these insights, provides us with more reliable information at a lower cost and allows us to become more of a trusted advisor to our clients, which we see as our most valuable role.”