Keep Plugged In: Electrical System and Data Center Audits

By Kleronomos, Chris | Risk Management, December 1995 | Go to article overview

Keep Plugged In: Electrical System and Data Center Audits


Kleronomos, Chris, Risk Management


When reviewing data center protection programs, risk managers typically ensure that the proper insurance programs are in place and that the company has contracted for alternate work sites in the event of emergency. A crucial issue often overlooked, however, is the condition of the facility's electrical infrastructure and environment. Electrical system anomalies can completely inactivate computer and communication networks, leading to potentially devastating business interruption losses. Industry studies conducted by power utilities, data and telecommunication system manufacturers and the Electrical Power Research Institute reveal that more than 80 percent of all performance problems affecting computer systems and networks are caused by electrical system inadequacies. They also create fire, electrocution and other safety hazards. One way to maintain electrical system efficiency--and to identify the causes of problems in damaged systems--is through a facility infrastructure and environmental (FI&E) audit. The FI&E audit is a comprehensive analysis of a facility's electrical infrastructure that identifies problems and develops solutions that help keep systems and equipment running smoothly.

CAUSES OF FAILURE AND ERRATIC SYSTEM PERFORMANCE

Data processing disruptions can be particularly troublesome in today's computer-dependent work environment. The causes of these disruptions fall into four categories: hardware failures, software problems, operational errors and "environmental" influences. This latter category includes those factors within a building that affect computer systems such as temperature and humidity changes, radio frequency interference (RFI), static and harmonics.

Outages and system breakdowns due to the first three categories have declined in recent years. For example, as designs have improved, hardware and software breakdowns have become less common. Operational errors have also been reduced now that many data processing functions are automated.

However, harmful environmental influences have been increasing due to the decentralization of computer systems. In the computer's early days, hardware was kept in computer rooms where the environmental conditions were closely monitored. In today's data processing environment, however, components of local area networks, wide area networks and sophisticated telecommunications systems often operate in different locations, which leave systems vulnerable to damaging electrical and environmental influences. Without a proper diagnostic analysis of the electrical infrastructure, these problems may remain undetected and plague network dependability. Many facilities also have wiring deficiencies, and state-of-the-art computer systems can place great stress on electrical system infrastructure. In fact, poorly installed wiring--whether in old buildings or newly renovated ones--represents the most critical system performance problem for companies.

Additionally, equipment failures that appear due to hardware quality problems are often actually caused by electrical infrastructure deficiencies or harmful environmental influences. Field service engineers or investigators may misdiagnose these failures, which can lead to the partial or total replacement of the hardware system. And since the hardware is not responsible for the breakdowns, the outages and failures will continue, as will business interruptions and any safety risks created by the deficiencies.

KEEP THE CURRENT FLOWING

To protect data processing systems and other electrical equipment, companies need a method for analyzing their facilities, electrical systems. This can be accomplished through an FI&E audit. The audit will be performed by experienced, certified auditors who use specialized instrumentation. Audits conducted by ECOS, for example, involve a complete examination and analysis of all facility components including power distribution systems, infrastructure and environmental conditions. …

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