IoT Challenge: Power Backup at the Edge
Without reliable power, the IoT is just a dream. Making it reality takes meticulous planning and execution of power management, not only for devices dispersed through remote areas but also at edge sites where data is processed and analyzed.
Managing primary and backup power is a serious consideration as the IoT expands, linking sensors with data centers and edge sites. Some IoT environments cannot tolerate power outages for too long – or at all. Consider the risks involved in losing connectivity between wearable patient devices and their doctors or connected self-driving vehicles and their base.
Edge computing sites are integral to IoT implementations, making it possible to process, analyze and – if needed – store data close to the source, instead of the cloud where latency can be an issue.
Edge sites typically are not staffed, so they must be monitored from afar to prevent outages. So in addition to deploying UPS backup systems with long battery life, edge sites require remote power management solutions providing visibility into the edge environment.
As the IoT expands into remote areas and edge sites proliferate, demand for connectivity and visibility is increasing, says Jim Simonelli, senior vice president, emerging businesses, IT Division, at energy management company Schneider Electric. Remote monitoring helps ensure uptime, alerting administrators to issues such as low batteries before they wear out.
Remote management also enables an orderly shutdown in the event of equipment malfunction or unpredictable events such as natural disasters and cyber-attacks, says Hervé Tardy, vice president and general manager, Distributed Power Quality North America, for power management company Eaton.
For power backup, organizations are deploying UPS systems – much like they do with traditional IT infrastructure. “There is a UPS for every environment, but it’s important to choose based on the specific site and situation,” cautions Ramesh Menon, vice president and general manager, distributed power solutions for infrastructure vendor Vertiv.
In dusty industrial environments or remote areas with an unreliable electrical grid, Menon says, it makes sense to deploy more rugged UPS units, as opposed to standard models. “Where remote areas have an unreliable power grid, you may need UPS systems specially designed for supporting poor power environments.”
Picking the Right UPS
When picking UPS systems for edge and IoT, Menon advises making a case-by-case basis decision. “Requirements that factor into this decision can be power capacity, runtime, footprint and manageability of the UPS. Remember, most edge sites do not have on-site IT staff. A UPS that can be monitored and managed remotely offers real value.”
Most IoT applications currently use standard UPSs equipped with network connectivity that provide visibility into the environment. “However, we do see a growing preference for UPSs with smaller form factors as IoT device and applications aggregate together and are contained in small form-factor enclosures,” Simonelli says.
Battery life is an important factor. “We see an increase in the use of Lithium Ion battery technology, which yields 10 years of battery life and twice the runtime and half the size and weight of standard batteries,” he says.
To provide a better fit for edge and IoT, UPS makers are starting to customize systems for these environments. Vertiv this year is launching a family of small UPSs designed primarily for IoT applications, says Menon.
Tardy says true IoT functionality “has yet to make its way into UPSs,” but IoT-like capabilities such as predictive analytics to manage unit and battery life are available. “In the future, we anticipate seeing new families of products that combine industrial strength and ruggedness with advanced communication capabilities such as complete cybersecurity and advanced communication protocols,” he says.
Power management and backup have become a habit for protecting IT equipment. Now we need to develop the same good habits for keeping IoT equipment continuously available.
Pedro Pereira is a Massachusetts-based writer who has covered technology and the IT channel for two decades. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.