The Dark Side
Weather is inevitable, downtime shouldn’t be. Per Information Week, in 2015 IT downtime alone costs $26.5 Billion in lost revenue. This does not take into account the loss of customer confidence, productivity, and supply chain interruptions that are a result of these outages. In a constantly wired world, service level agreements (SLAs) with online availability requirements of >99.9% is today’s de-facto standard. It is simply a fact of the new business model that downtime is no longer acceptable. Industry has done what it can to protect itself from these outages as much as possible, and a few of those options are laid out below. But the result is the same, enterprise level businesses can no longer operate without disaster recovery plan with as many contingencies in place as possible to ensure minimal rebound and recovery time should an outage occur. With embedded electronics permeating further into our everyday lives, partially in thanks to the Internet of Things, there are more and more devices that we need to worry about recovering once the lights come back on. So what can you do to fend off the darkness?
Emergency generators have been industry standard for mediating building-wide power failures and outages for data centers and equipment facilities, and lately, portable generators are not uncommon in homes. They are typically powered by diesel, or more recently natural gas, and the higher end systems power on automatically once a power failure is detected. The initial purchase and setup costs for a generator vary widely but are always in the thousands, and tend to require a professional installation furthering their costs. Generators tend to be very large and, due to exhaust and noise, are stored on the exterior of the facility they are protecting. They require constant maintenance and inspection once installed and should be run periodically to ensure the system does not seize or gum up. The lifespan of a generator can be measured in the decades if properly maintained and kept up, allowing a longer time to get a return on investment. The main issue with generators in regards to embedded systems and electronics is that they do not provide instantaneous switch over once the power goes out so the device may experience a potentially dangerous brief power interruption. Anyone who has been in a data center when a generator engages knows the few seconds of darkness followed by the loud roar of a generator and the eventual return of the lights. These few seconds could be the difference between a graceful shutdown and a complete failure of equipment. At the very least technicians will be scanning the facility looking for devices to reset and hoping the LEDs go green upon boot up. Generators offer no protection against power spikes and voltages surges, they are solely there for when power goes out entirely.
The UPS and Downs
Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) differ from generators in that they are always on standby and tend to provide near-instantaneous protection when power is lost. UPS come in different varieties with auxiliary power stored in batteries, supercapacitors, and occasionally flywheels. UPSs come in a variety of sizes and capacities from small strips to support your PC to wall mounted units to handle a whole rack of equipment. UPSs also offer the additional advantage of real-time protection against power spikes and surges to the connected device. For all of its advantages there are a few serious factors to be considered for medium to large scale UPSs. While the batteries do tend to last for 5 to 10 years, they must be properly replaced and then disposed of once they have reached end of life. In order to keep batteries charged and maintain proper working conditions, the UPS must continually draw more power than the device it is protecting would require by itself. This is an enormous waste of power and a potentially significant additional cost overtime.
The LiOn never Sleeps
With the increase in renewable energy, batteries are becoming more and more popular and present in the back-up and auxiliary power plan for facilities. These differ slightly from UPSs in that they are typically hardwired at the main power source directly and consist of a series of inverters, charge controllers, and lastly the batteries themselves. Lithium-ion batteries are quickly becoming the industry standard as lead acid batteries are slowly phased out. These batteries offer near real-time switch over when the power goes out, often measured in milliseconds to provide coverage for your electronic devices. They are more compact, make no noise, and have no exhaust issues. Their footprint is typically small to medium sized and usually wall mounted near where the electricity enters the facility. Unlike generators that can power an entire plant or facility, battery powered UPSs typically have a predetermined critical load to identify which devices get extra time during an outage. Initial costs are significantly higher than generators and there are some recurring maintenance expenses to keep an eye on wear, tear, and corrosion. One of the shortcomings of batteries is a limited temperature operating range, especially in regards to heat, and once a battery is damaged by heat the capacity cannot be restored. There has been an ever increasing demand for more batteries with the advent and increase of the electric vehicle industry. Shortages aren’t expected near-term but it could be a foreseeable issue with the amount of batteries needed to replace the fossil fuel vehicles on the road today.
From Building to Board
Technologic Systems’ TS-BAT series of PC/104 peripheral boards are ideal for remote locations not connected to the power grid or critical installations that warrant the added cost of a dedicated power backup peripheral. TS-BAT have several logical components which provide the means to monitor and charge the battery and provide power to various sub-systems. The charging control circuit is powered either by regulated input voltage or by the batteries themselves. It controls battery charging levels through pulse width modulation of regulated input voltage. It also has several analog to digital circuits which allow it to monitor battery voltage, charge/discharge current, and so forth.
The charge control circuit also provides a low-power sleep mode. In this mode the TS-BAT3 will power down the main board, itself, and any other connected boards for a specified period of time. When the time has elapsed, power will be restored, rebooting the main board.
Introducing the TS-SILO
A new solution entering the field is the TS-SILO supercapacitor technology premiering on the TS-7680 by Technologic Systems. The main differentiator between the TS-SILO and other technologies is that the it resides on-board the embedded system. The TS-SILO will supply 20-60 seconds of reserve power in the event of a power failure or provide coverage during the switchover from commercial to generated power. The actual time is dependant on the number of resources running on the board, but the TS-7680 ensures there is enough time for a graceful power down to maintain system and file integrity. Once depleted of stored energy, the supercapacitors can be fully recharged in less than a minute when the power comes back on. The TS-SILO will also protect against brownouts and gaps. The footprint on the embedded single board computer is slightly larger than the coin cell battery for the real-time clock, with no installation or maintenance requirements. There are no noise, exhaust, or maintenance considerations. Even if you have building-level protection in the form of batteries or generators the TS-7680 is another way to ensure that your embedded system has the time it needs to safely power down and wait for the power to return. The TS-7680 is also desirable in small remote, unmanned stations that require some insurance against the elements and where it simply isn’t feasible to have a generator or other level of backup present.
The measurement for downtime is no longer in minutes, but in dollars. Maintaining file system integrity in the event of a power down is crucial. Your company cannot afford outages and needs to have a disaster recovery plan in place that is robust enough to handle all potential hazards. Having building level systems in place is a good way to provide a blanket of coverage for non-essential systems but you should investigate having additional protection built-in to your embedded systems for an extra layer of protection and peace of mind. Even if you have a mirrored hot swap on location there is still the time it takes for the technician to locate, diagnose and install that hot swap with the device that was damaged or corrupted. The TS-7680 with TS-SILO technology provides a new level of safeguard and gives your embedded systems a harbor in the storm.
About Technologic Systems
Technologic Systems has been in business for 32 years, helping more than 8000 OEM customers and building over a hundred COTS products that have never been discontinued. Our commitment to excellent products, low prices, and exceptional customer support has allowed our business to flourish in a very competitive marketplace. We offer a wide variety of single board computers, computer-on-modules, touch panel PCs, PC/104 and other peripherals, and industrial controllers that satisfy most embedded project requirements. We also offer custom configurations and design services. We specialize in the ARM and X86 architectures, FPGA IP-core design, and open-source software support, providing advanced custom solutions using hardware-software co-design strategies.