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Why You Need to Monitor Your UPS Battery Backups

A UPS Battery Backup is an uninterruptible power supply that provides a seamless backup power in the event that primary power, normally AC, is lost at your site. It is considered "uninterruptible" in that it comes online quickly enough to prevent interruption of activities at your site when primary power fails. Users relying on equipment at the site should be unable to detect any difference in network activities when a UPS switches on.

In keeping the power on at your sites, battery backups prevent:

  • Network power outages/downtime.
  • Hard-shutdowns that can result in equipment failure.
  • Data loss from an unexpected power failure.

What a Battery Backup Consists of?

A Battery Backup consists of many things.

There are power inputs to charge the backup. There are outputs to discharge power to protected equipment. There's also a control mechanism (switching on the backup when input power is not detected).

Finally, you have the battery, which stores a charge until needed. Smaller battery backups (ex. home office) typically allow for only a few minutes of backup time. That's only long enough for the system to save data and shut down.

In industrial applications, a battery backup may be expected to fully power equipment for hours on end.

The Importance of Keeping an Eye on Your Battery

Unfortunately, batteries also fail. In fact, over 90% of UPS failures are due to battery faults. And your battery strings may not be load-tested terribly often. So your UPS Battery Backup may not always be in shape to take over primary power in the event of a failure.

Battery strength wanes with time. If the backup system employs a string of batteries, even a single battery falling outside its normal range can damage the entire string. If this is the case, when primary power fails, your backup may not be there to keep your site online.

Do you know the status of your remote site battery strings? Would you know if one single cell was falling out of its ideal voltage or temperature range? At many companies, battery cell monitoring is a commonly overlooked opportunity to reduce costs and improve reliability.

Making Sure Your Backup Is There to Back You Up

To ensure that your UPS Battery Backup is always ready to take over in the event that your site loses primary power, your UPS Battery Backup system should always be fully monitored. In many cases, battery backups provide their own performance monitoring systems, however, if the backup fails, so do these. Therefore, your battery backup's internal monitoring systems cannot be trusted to notify you when a serious backup-related problem occurs.

You'll need to employ an external backup system. Small Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs) are available specifically to measure battery voltages at relatively little cost.

With a small RTU, like the BVM from DPS Telecom, you'll set threshold alarms for each individual battery in the backup string. If a voltage goes over or under its desired range, the BVM will set an alarm. If any battery in the string should fall outside its normal range by a percentage you define, the BVM will also set an alarm.

the BVM, monitoring up to 24 strings
The BVM from DPS Telecom is equipped to monitor and trend batteries. It alerts yous when any one battery is in danger of harming the string.

Of course, your entire site may well benefit from network monitoring systems. You don't necessarily have to employ a monitoring system strictly for your battery strings. Monitoring devices are available that support all of the equipment at your site, including your UPS Battery Backups.

Important Features in a Monitoring Device

So, what do you look for in a monitoring device to support your battery backup? You should find a device that will give you visibility for all the equipment at the site.

Battery temperature is also a good general measure of battery string health. A temperature that rises too high is a strong indicator that something may be wrong.

There are some very granular battery-monitoring systems available that tie a sensor pod to every cell in your battery string, but these tend to be quite expensive - to the point where many people say "I could replace my entire battery string for less than what that monitoring system costs."

A pair of analog inputs (one for each voltage and temperature) is a good monitoring technique that you can install at a relatively small cost.

There are some very complex ways to measure your batteries (sensor node on every cell, capacitance, internal resistance, etc.), but the simplest and easiest way to start is to track voltage to monitor battery life remaining, plus temperature to detect overheating before damage occurs.

the BVM from DPS Telecom
The BVM from DPS Telecom is equipped to monitor up to 24 batteries. It also provides additional temperature and analog monitoring at your site.

You could choose a full-featured RTU or something specific for battery voltage monitoring. In any case, once you connect your monitoring device to your UPS, you will configure the unit to send an alert when a battery sets an alarm. Units like the BVM are capable of sending an email notification, so when an alarm occurs, you won't have to be in your NOC to know about it. You can get notification from wherever you are, so you can respond quickly to potential battery issues.

Battery trends help tell you when you can expect battery troubles.
Battery trending helps you determine when to replace your batteries. You don't have to wait until a problem develops.

Or you can have your UPS Battery Backup monitoring systems report directly to your alarm master. You can then have the master send you alerts. A good alarm master will offer a progressive notification system.

That way, the NOC makes sure that the right people find out about alarms at the right times. Any technician the notification reaches can essentially "claim" the alarm by acknowledging it.

Your UPS Battery Backup monitoring device can also gather battery trending and performance data by issuing periodic SNMP Get requests. These trends will help you decide when it's time to replace individual cells or an entire string before you have a full-blown outage on your hands.

The Bottom Line

A UPS is an Uninterruptible Power Supply. Its purpose is to continue power delivery during commercial/generator outages. Your UPS Battery Backup exists to provide backup power to your sites. Battery backup power is necessary at remote facilities. Commercial power is not 100% reliable. You probably have generators at your site, but they don't kick on instantly. To cover minor hiccups in the power grid, you need backup battery power.

UPS range in size from simple home systems to massive industrial battery plants. Some devices have their own built-in UPS power. However, you can't trust your backup solution unconditionally. An efficient UPS battery monitoring system will help you ensure that your batteries are prepared to work for you when you need them to.

Whatever the device you choose, make sure that it's sized to match your site requirements.

Your Next Step: Learn More about Battery Monitoring

Monitoring UPS systems is an important part of any truly reliable network. You simply can't afford to leave your battery strings vulnerable. While some monitoring is better than no monitoring, the right monitoring system makes all the difference. If you want to get more information about how to monitor your UPS system or want to speak with me or someone on my team about designing a monitoring solution for your network, please contact us today.