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Power failures are fastest growing continuity issue as IT demands rise

Bill Goodwin

Power supply failures were the fastest growing source of business disruption last year, as power-hungry IT systems put increasing strain on the electricity infrastructure, ­according to business continuity supplier Sungard.

The growing use of blade servers by IT departments, combined with greater demands on IT cooling systems, have contributed to a significant growth in power-related business disruptions over the past 12 months, said Sungard.

The proportion of business continuity plans being invoked by companies experiencing power failures jumped from 7% in 2005 to 26% in 2006, the company said.

"The power infrastructure is creaking a bit. Power is harder to get. When companies are looking for new buildings, there are very few where you can build datacentres because there is not enough power from the grid," said Sungard managing director Keith Tilley.

Power outages over the past year were caused by a combination of problems in the electricity grid and failures in datacentres as rising power demands from IT and air-conditioning equipment put a strain on the supply infrastructure.

Paul Briggs, Sungard head of customer service, said, "Businesses are being forced to drive their systems harder to keep pace with commercial demands. The problem is that it is much easier to roll out new applications and servers than it is to update the supporting infrastructure.

"Uninterruptible power supplies and generators usually have a 12-week delivery time and require an engineering project to install. But typically servers can be installed and delivered in days."

Steve Salmon, business continuity consultant at professional services firm KPMG, pointed out that organisations often had little control over their power supply systems in shared buildings.

"One of the problems organisations face is getting transparency on how their power supply is maintained and how it grows in response to demand," he said. "There is a lot of equipment to maintain and service. If maintenance is neglected, that can lead to problems.

"It is important for organisations to look at the small print of their power supply arrangements. It often emerges that the design of the power supply does not meet ­requirements."

Best practice for ensuring power supplies (Source: KPMG)

● Match availability requirements for IT to the power system design

● Install an uninterruptible power supply, which will allow IT systems to continue functioning for a short period if there is a temporary loss of power

● Look for a datacentre with an alternative source of power, such as a diesel generator

● The gold standard, increasingly favoured by financial organisations, is a datacentre with two independent sources of power. But this costs.

Datacentre efficiencies 'need review' >>

Avoid datacentre downtime >>

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