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November 1999


Wash Your Hands Of Dirty Power

BY JESSE AUSTIN

T-Net, an Internet service provider in Auburndale, WI, began in the mid ’80s as a bulletin board service and today provides more than 8,000 customers with Internet access through dial-up modem, ISDN, DSL, and leased-line T-1 connections. Additionally, they provide Web hosting, Web development, Cold Fusion Internet database programming, and technical support services to their clients.

As president of T-Net, John Hrusovszky truly appreciates the importance of maintaining optimum uptime. "We provide a full range of Internet services to a wide range of customers," Hrusovszky said. "We work across a spectrum of enterprises, from individuals to small commercial businesses to schools, and they all rely on us for Web and e-mail access everyday."

Maintaining consistent, reliable service to each of T-Net's customers is a top priority. Since Hrusovszky installed an uninterruptible power system (UPS) at each of his five points-of-presence (POPs) scattered throughout central Wisconsin, he hasn't had to worry about blackouts or irregular power standing in the way of accomplishing that goal.

That, however, was not always the case. Before installing his first UPS, a 3.2kVA Best Power Fortress unit, in 1994, Hrusovszky said irregular and erratic power caused frequent problems with his system and permanently damaged sensitive equipment. "We would have brownouts where the incoming power would drop by 20 volts. I really don't know what the issue was with the power supply, but it was definitely erratic and that created problems for us. You could see the lights dimming, and when that happens you know it's bad." Hrusovszky recalls two computers and several RAM chips being damaged beyond repair.

According to a 1998 Ernst & Young Business Continuity Planning Benchmark Study, power outages are the number one cause of business disruption in North America. Such disruptions place stress on electrical components, which can lead to premature equipment wear and tear, corrupted data, and costly downtime.

“Our Web servers, routers, and modem banks would all have problems with the electricity coming in,” Hrusovszky said. “It was pretty common that applications would freeze up and you couldn’t even power down from it. You just had to cut the power and reboot, which took time and inconvenienced any of our customers who were relying on us at that moment.”

Although no vital data seemed to be lost in the power fluctuations, Hrusovszky said he would find bits and pieces of corrupted files on his DNS cache after a forced reboot. “The pieces that we found throughout the hard drive didn’t seem to be anything vital, but it made us question what was happening to people’s e-mail on this server. Were parts of messages or attached files being lost or corrupted because of these power problems as well? We weren’t willing to risk that.”

Hrusovszky chose to hardwire a Best Power unit into the power supply protecting the Web server, modem banks, and routers. “The problems totally went away,” Hrusovszky proclaimed. “Any problems we had with applications freezing up, with computer processors and SIMM chips getting fried, and with random bits of data being corrupted or lost throughout the hard drive ended when we installed a UPS on that equipment.”

Problems with sagging or spiking power were eliminated by the Fortress’s buck-and-boost technology, which automatically elevates or reduces the power level to a safe range. This line-interactive technology is vital for equipment operating in areas like Auburndale that experience frequent brownouts. This reduction in electrical power is often caused when utility companies intentionally reduce their output during periods of peak demand rather than risking a blackout for any one area. The result is dangerously low power levels that can harm a computer’s delicate circuitry. Typically, the more advanced the equipment, the more susceptible it will be to abnormally low power levels.

As T-Net expanded its service area beyond its headquarters in Auburndale, and placed other Wisconsin POPs in Stevens Point, Marshfield, and Wisconsin Rapids, it backed up its more than $450,000 worth of equipment with additional Fortress Units. As the power demands became greater at its main office in Auburndale, T-Net upgraded that unit to a Best Power 3.7kVA FERRUPS model.

Hrusovszky also wanted to protect T-Net from Wisconsin’s summer electrical storms and brief blackouts. “Businesses and individuals rely on our service 24 hours a day, and just because our power is down doesn’t mean our customers’ is as well,” Hrusovszky said. “For that reason, the battery backup time on each of the units was also an important feature for us.” If utility power is lost, the Fortress units allow each of T-Net’s POP sites to remain fully functional without interruption to the customer for five to six hours.

“Since we purchased the Fortresses we’ve had at least eight or nine blackouts. Those units have carried us through whatever outage we had to endure. Whether it was a just a few minutes or a few hours, we’ve been able to continue service to our customers,” Hrusovszky said.

In addition to protecting the Internet equipment necessary to serve his customers, Hrusovszky has protected each desktop PC that his staff members use with Best Power’s smaller 600VA Patriot units. “We don’t have the hours of backup run time on those computers like we do on the server equipment, but we do want to protect those machines and that data from irregular power or sudden blackouts,” Hrusovszky said. “The smaller Patriots take care of that for us, and if we lose power for more than a few minutes, our employees are able to save what they are working on and perform an orderly shutdown.”

Deregulation of the power industry, enhanced sensitivity of devices, increased power disturbances inside buildings — these are the challenges facing power quality today, and they require sophisticated solutions. During the last several years, overall UPS market demand has grown at an annual rate of 10-15 percent, and UPSs have gained increasing recognition and acceptance as an integral element of Internet-telephony systems planning.

As T-Net prepares to open additional POPs in Wisconsin, Hrusovszky said he will continue to back up his equipment with UPSs. “A lot of problems that we’ve encountered over the years with equipment freezing and crashing unexpectedly were difficult to pinpoint,” Hrusovszky said. “We thought for a while it might be a programming bug or something in the computer. When we realized there was a problem with the power supply and we installed the UPS, it was like night and day. It was amazing to me what a difference clean power made.”

Jesse Austin is a senior writer at Best Power. Best Power, a division of SPX Corporation, is a global manufacturer of uninterruptible power systems that protect computers, information networks and other critical systems from power-line disturbances. For more information, please visit their Web site at www.bestpower.com








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