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Alternatives to computer UPS?

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 

As I mentioned in another post, the City that I work for is trying to go 'green'....


In the IT department we have been using virtualisation (for the non-IT people - it's technology that lets you run multiple virtual computers on one physical computer) for a year now and we love it. I'm curious if the Huddler servers are running in a virtual environment? :)


But we have banks of nasty old UPS's (large batteries that constantly charge and give you a 10/15 minute window to shut the servers down if the main power goes out) and go through batteries all the time. I've also heard that they consume more power than the server would itself.


Does anyone know of any more sustainable alternatives to the traditional UPS? I've heard of a product that uses compressed air but they never reply to my attempts to contact them. What about DIY solutions?



post #2 of 7

As far as virtualization is concerned, all of the developers here at Huddler use it everyday on their machines in order to test the site in many environments.  So our Mac's run Windows XP and Vista as virtual machines and our Windows machines run additional VMs in order to test all the different browser flavors (IE 6/7/8, Firefox 2/3, Safari, etc.).  Our production server, that hosts and all three Huddles, is still a single server with no virtualization of any kind. 


I'm not aware of any sustainable alternatives to a UPS but would love to hear about other options.

Edited by teej - Tue, 01 Jul 2008 16:13:57 GMT
post #3 of 7

I can't think of a DIY solution for a datacenter to modify its UPS batteries...although have you considered a solar power system for the datacenter itself? Many datacenters across the US are considering solar panels because the cost per kWh is astronoical for most datacenters, which makes solar panels very cost effective for datacenters.



post #4 of 7
Thread Starter 

It's good to hear that your setup is like that teej. I'm in the process of setting up my own business (developing web applications for Government) and it's amazing how many servers you'd be running if you follow some of the advice out there. I've seen articles and blogs that advocate having several servers for a simple web server/database setup. Obviously if things get larger (or if you are REALLY worried about security - but isn't that what firewalls and well written code are for?) it makes sense, but if your servers are anything like the ones we run at work - most of the day they get 1-3% utilization.


Gogogreensolar - I love the idea of using solar. I don't suppose you have any idea of how much solar costs or even where to start looking into that? I suspect that they would be very open to this idea.


As for other solutions.. the only alternative to the battery UPS I have seen is fly wheel technology (here is one example - l). The only problem is they are usually for large data centers (250kW is the smallest setup I think). We probably only need 5 kW output. If someone ever invents a small scale UPS alternative I bet they would make a LOT of money... - seem to be the main producer of this technology,

post #5 of 7

I have several UPSs here at home and am also concerned about their efficiency.  Each is running through a wattmeter (Kill-A-Watt) and I can check their power consumption that way.  Ideally I would also monitor the load side and compare that to the power drawn to get an idea of the efficiency, but I haven't gone that far yet.


One thing to be aware of about UPSs is that there are a few different types, ranging from 'standby' to 'online'.  A 'standby' UPS is routing incoming power straight to the load (perhaps through surge suppressors), and also using some incoming power to keep the batteries topped up.  Only when line power is absent are the batteries drawn upon.  In this situation the overhead is only that extra wattage required to keep the batteries topped up.  Most of the low-cost consumer-grade UPSs are of this style.  My smallest UPS (Conext 900 AVR) works like this, and by removing all load I can measure that overhead wattage, in this case it is 8 watts.  In theory, this overhead would remain at 8 watts regardless of load, and only go up when the batteries are depleted as a result of a loss of line power, until the batteries are again fully charged.


At the other end of the range from 'standby' is the 'online' UPS, where the load is powered completely from the batteries, and incoming power is only used to keep the batteries charged.   Clearly this configuration will suffer in efficiency, with three main areas of loss: converting AC to DC to charge the batteries, batteries themselves do not return 100% of the energy they receive, and of course the DC-to-AC conversion on the output side.  Online UPSs have several advantages over standby UPSs including zero transfer time and complete isolation from the incoming power, removing the need for surge/spike/brownout protection for the attached load.  Their use is usually reserved for more critical applications.


Here is a webpage I found outlining the differences between the various types of UPSs:


and here is an article I found discussing the issue of UPS efficiency:


I have one 'online' UPS, a 1500VA rackmount model by Tripp-Lite.  It backs up my entertainment center which includes a PC, a couple of DVD Recorders with hard drives (which could be corrupted if power is lost while in use), and an HD cable box which will lose its program information if it loses power.  With no load it draws about 25 watts, but what I haven't measured is how much that overhead increases in response to adding load.


I also have a 'do-it-yourself' UPS fashioned out of a combination battery-charger/inverter and a huge deep-cycle 12-volt battery (265 amp-hours).  This setup is used to power the blower for the gas-fired furnace in our house in the event of a long power outage.  Since this is not an application that requires instant switchover, I leave it unplugged except for once a month to top up the battery, and it usually runs for just 5 minutes before going into trickle-charge mode.  This approach might be worth considering for someone with a UPS that powers something that is not turned on very often and for not very long (once daily at most perhaps).  The energy required to keep a battery topped up all the time is typically much more than what it takes to bring it back to full charge after it has been unused for a period of time.  Granted it is more of a hassle to do it that way, but if your PC is turned all the way off for most of the day, also turning off the UPS will most likely result in a reduction of energy consumption.

Edited by bobkart - Sun, 06 Jul 2008 08:19:51 GMT
post #6 of 7
Thread Starter 

I'm reasonably sure that our ones at work are online ones. :(


If someone ever invents an efficient small UPS they are going to make a fortune.

post #7 of 7

I have a couple things to add beyond what others said on this thread.


UPS batteries are extremely recyclable, even though they are normally made from lead.  If you want to use a different technology first question is whether the replacement technology is any cleaner, right?  Any replacement technology means having some method for storing energy.  There is a much larger issue in the grander scheme about storing energy, in that the best alternative energy sources (wind and solar) are intermittent and cannot be counted on to provide power when it's most needed, hence for them to play a useful role requires some kind of energy storage system that can be scaled to serve whole cities. 


I wrote an article recently Green businesses need green infrastructure and need green web hosting that goes over one angle to this, the option of outsourcing some of the server duties to a green hosting provider.  Obviously not all of your departmental servers do services that can be outsourced to a hosting provider, but some do.  However some of the green hosting providers I have identified publish some useful guidelines for green computing infrastructure.  (e.g. SolarVPS)


Maybe there is green attributes you can induce elsewhere in the organization.  Like using LCD monitors rather than CRT.  Or looking not only at computing power but also electrical power requirements.  I am using a Mac Mini to write this and one reason I own it is it consumes only 26 watts, the newest Mac Mini consumes only 13 watts.  In terms of compute power per unit of electrical power this is phenomenal.  Similarly some server vendors are also focusing on power efficiency.  SolarVPS's page describes what they think the soul of a green computing machine is.

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