Electrical Technology: True Reliability In The Balance

July 19, 2002
If reliability in IT doesn't in itself equal true reliability, what does? The answer lies in balancing the whole of a critical facility, and not depending on any one part.

Reliability is based on an interdependent web of building systems, equipment, people, and processes:
· Power.
· Fire and life-safety.
· Security.
· IT infrastructure.
· Commissioning and testing.
· Operations.
· Maintenance.
· Operations and maintenance procedures.
· Controls and monitoring.
· Disaster preparedness.

How reliable do you need to be? Consider the benchmarks for companies of your size and specialty. The highest levels may not be feasible or reasonable for your business. Six-nines reliability is a legitimate target of top-of-the-line Wall Street trading firms, banks, and cable operators, but cost-prohibitive and unnecessary for other kinds of companies.

How Reliable is Reliable Enough?Reliability Targets Expected Annual Downtime99.9999%31.5 seconds99.9995.25 minutes99.9952 minutes99.98.76 hours99.087.6 hoursHow do you orchestrate all the components of reliability into an integrated system that delivers, supports, and sustains your targeted level of reliability? A Critical Facilities Balance Sheet™ is one tool that takes all the design and operational elements of a critical facility and compares them to industry benchmarks for achieving targeted reliability. The balance sheet helps a company examine all the factors that comprise reliability - IT, power, HVAC, life-safety, operations, security, maintenance, controls, and commissioning - and prioritize their investment to attain and sustain higher whole-facility reliability (Figure 3).It's easy for a company to be oversold on reliability in IT equipment and power, yet remain critically vulnerable in areas like maintenance and testing. A six-nines IT system maintained by three-nines supporting procedures doesn't stay a six-nines system for long. A weakness in any area means operations may be far less reliable than a company expects.

A balance sheet diagnostic can identify the components where a critical facility is deficient, where it is oversubscribed, and how to correct the imbalance. Yet, it typically requires an experienced and independent mediator to ask the right questions, weigh the responses, and calibrate the results into an actionable remedy. Companies should hold sessions with IT executives, facility managers, and all relevant operational parties to clarify points of view, apply benchmarking, achieve a meeting of the minds, and arrive at a whole-facility reliability target. When we lead these formalized meetings, we address and evaluate no fewer than 96 separate issues regarding the facility's configuration and operating practices - each one of them representing potential points of failure.

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