Battery power meets virtualization

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, Chris Mangum, CEO Servato talks to Capacity about the battery management solutions that support data centres in the wake of natural disasters

As we think back to the havoc that storms Harvey, Maria and Irma wreaked across the US and Caribbean, thankfully those events are slowly becoming a distant memory for those of us unaffected.

We covered in great detail the relief efforts being carried out by various companies in the telecoms sector and the ways in which the industry was most affected by the events. But the subject got us thinking about the companies whose job it is to supply power to those mission critical data centres and telecoms facilities, and most importantly keep them up and running through disasters such as the ones we’ve just witnessed.

Speaking to Chris Mangum, CEO of Servato, the US-based battery management solutions company, not only did he offer us a look into how the backup power systems operate for these large telcos but he also gave us insight into the company as whole and its unique offerings.

“What we do is manage back up power primarily for large telcos,” says Mangum. “We do that with some internet of things (IoT) technology that connects batteries and other digital equipment to the internet and allows us to monitor that equipment remotely, to diagnose problems with the equipment remotely but also to manage the way the batteries are charged. With that we’re able to extend the life of the batteries that are typically at telecoms sites for backup power and we’ve got considerable data demonstrating a doubling of that battery life.”

Servato currently operates “primarily in the US but is extending its footprint into Canada and Mexico” and while on the topic of location, I questioned Mangum on whether any of his customers were affected by the recent slew of storms.

“We didn’t have any sites in the Houston area that we were managing explained Mangum. “But we did have sites in West Florida around Sarasota and Fort Meyers which was pretty much ground zero for Irma’s second landfall. From what we understand only 6 or 7% of the wireless sites in Houston went down but a lot of the central offices were flooded. But what we really don’t know is how many people lost more fundamental communication because of the damage back in the network.”

Mangum went on to explain that a lot of the power equipment that goes into telecoms sites are also earthquake tested an interesting fact in light of the recent earthquakes that have occurred in Mexico. In short all of the battery and power equipment undergoes NEBS compliance testing for US based and North American telcos which Mangum says “is kind of the equivalent of putting your equipment in one of those paint can shakers you get in DIY stores and it just shakes the hell out of it and makes sure it works afterwards.”

Generally speaking for Servato “the batteries belong to the carrier” the rectifier which is the thing at the side which charges the battery and provides power to the equipment “that also belongs to carriers as well”. “We have an appliance that we collocate with the battery and the rectifier that connect them to the Internet and do the charge management,” explained Mangum.

Chiming in Alex Rawitz, head of business development at Servato commented: “There are two technicians to every 350 sites, so when you talk about a hurricane on the coast about to hit Florida, for those technicians there’s no possible way for them to get out there and check and test the power system in each of those 350 sites. That is a similar issue that we’re seeing around the country whether it’s across the carriers, spectrum, fixed, wireless, cable companies etc.”

As for how they prepare for natural disasters and what can be done, Mangum expands saying: “So if we have our systems deployed prior to a hurricane making landfall the technicians who are monitoring the backup power equipment can go and look at each site and determine whether a site needs a generator or a top up to make sure the batteries are fully charged. They then watch when a hurricane makes landfall to see if power has gone out of the site, giving them the chance to intervene if they need to.”

But for environments that do not use Servato’s management system “technicians will typically rely on manual tests", says Mangum. “Which would’ve been done at least once a year and with those tests, by the time a storm hits, might be dated so you’re not sure whether or not you have your engineered 8 hours of backup power or not. “

But Mangum thinks that Servato has this covered, adding: “On our service our customers get a real time view of the status of that back up equipment and we test the batteries six times a day giving them not only the power levels but whether it’s taking charge the right way, is the battery healthy etc. All that data can tell us if a battery is about to fail or if it’s having problems.”

But as ever with all the innovation there’s an equal amount of trepidation and resistance. Mangum says that challenging the usual way of doing things and changing the need for man power is their biggest challenge. In the battery solutions management sector a great deal of effort is required to convince carriers to embrace this new approach.

Looking ahead however, the goal for Servato is clear they aim to “ensure these networks don’t go down as more of lines become dependent on the Internet.”

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