When the bytes go out: Power down? What next?

Author: Noel Davis, Subject specialist (Infrastructure programme)

With the increasing prospect of power interruption over the coming months, it is essential that Jisc members have confidence in their disaster recovery (DR) plan, which should deal with such eventualities.

Power recycling on IT equipment is usually managed by the IT team.   It is usual for core IT infrastructure equipment to have a secondary backup power supply; this may provide continuation of a switch to a secondary power supply via an on-site emergency generator or limited time supply located locally to the infrastructure device, such as an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

UPSs rely on internal batteries and are usually scaled to provide enough time to conduct a managed shutdown of the devices(s), not continued operation.  UPSs usually have embedded software use to both trigger the device-controlled shutdown and send an alert to a defined emergency contact. Instances will differ across the Jisc membership.

Maintenance of generators will most likely be the responsibility of the estates department and should have a periodic test conducted.  UPS battery maintenance will be controlled by the IT team but may involve third-party contractors as part of a support contract.

If maintenance of either alternative supply hasn’t been done recently, it would be prudent to check now.

If on-site generators are available, the estates department will know the maximum output power it can produce and should have a plan as to where this power can be directed.  Ensuring that core IT concentration points, server and data centers should be part of this.

Endpoint user and network distribution equipment is not likely to be supported.  With staff and students on site and daylight hours being reduced, will power be directed to services to aid safe evacuation – e.g. lighting, lifts and communications – rather than IT server rooms? Discussions with the estates department may need to be conducted and the DR plan updating.

National Grid power outages can be assumed to be scheduled and business activity can be adjusted in line with these notices.

Unexpected outage will cause greater problems, although current Nation Grid advice is that these will be highly unlikely.

The DR plan should be understood by all IT staff and in the case of a power outage, this should include accurate timeframes in which controlled shutdowns should occur.

Ensuring that backup generator provided power supply is available for core IT areas may be more difficult if there are student residences on site.

Residences can be particularly critical in the case of independent specialist colleges, where students may have varying levels of dependency on powered medical equipment in their rooms.

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