Uninterruptible power supply solutions are in demand, with new challenges opening up opportunities. Comms Business finds out more.

The day-to-day operations of businesses increasingly take place in the digital world and many organisations now rely on technology for mission-critical processes. Ensuring these solutions and services have access to continual power is vital so it is no surprise that uninterruptible power supply (UPS) solutions are in the spotlight.

This increased appetite for uninterruptible power coincides with significant advancements in the underlying technologies that power UPS solutions.

Ryan Jones, business development manager, Riello UPS, said, “The stereotypical view of a UPS as the big, bulky, and inefficient black box sat noisily buzzing away in the corner of your IT room is most definitely a thing of the past! Technology, design, and material advances mean today’s UPS systems are more efficient, compact, and reliable than their predecessors from just a few years ago.”

He discussed older UPS designs, which were commonly transformer-based. In those devices, the power flows via the rectifier, inverter, and transformer to the output, with a transformer used to step up the AC voltage levels. Drastic improvements have been made here.

Jones explained, “Transformer-free alternatives have been around since the 1990s, but they’ve really grown in popularity over the last decade. They use IGBT transistors capable of dealing with high voltages, eliminating the need for a step-up transformer after the inverter.

“Removing the transformer results in smaller and more lightweight UPS which generate less heat and require less cooling. Such transformer-free models are now the norm for power ratings below 10 kVA.”

Modular UPS units are offering businesses more options. Jones said, “The last decade has also seen the rise of modular UPS instead of your traditional monolithic units. Modular solutions offer risk-free ‘pay as you grow’ scalability where you can closely mirror the load at initial installation, then add extra power modules in the future as and when the need arises.

“Modular solutions reduce the risk of expensive oversizing so help to control your upfront capital costs. They deliver high power density in a compact footprint, so maximise valuable floor space. While because each power module is hot-swappable, you’re guaranteed downtime-free maintenance too.”

These innovations within the UPS market will be further disrupted by the ongoing shift from the traditional silicon based insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) to silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors. Jones explained, “These components are more efficient as they exhibit lower electrical resistance, which reduces energy losses. They deliver increased power density and can operate at higher temperatures.

“SiC also has faster switching capabilities, which results in a more responsive UPS, while it is more durable than IGBT too, leading to extended component lifecycles and reduced maintenance.”

Another area of development in the UPS market is the onset of so-called intelligent systems. Andrew Morley, head of marketing, Secure Power, discussed new possibilities around remote monitoring and predictive maintenance.

He said, “In the realm of UPS technology, there’s been a paradigm shift towards intelligent systems. IoT monitoring has become a cornerstone of UPS functionality, enabling remote supervision and data analytics. These systems are now capable of predictive maintenance, alerting operators to potential issues before they result in downtime, and ensuring optimal power usage and efficiency.”

Morley pointed out the possibility of using that data to reduce energy consumption or to make use of reduced energy rates. He explained, “The evolution is not only limited to monitoring. UPS systems are increasingly being integrated with smart grids, enhancing energy efficiency, and contributing to demand-side management.

“These smart UPS systems can dynamically adjust charging rates based on grid conditions, reducing energy consumption during peak periods, and contributing to a more stable power supply.”

Darren Garland, managing director, ProVu Communications, added, “We launched our first UPS devices just last year. Since then, we have seen an increase in the availability of more compact devices. Price point, power capabilities and device size go hand-in-hand. These changes we believe will make these devices even more sought after and desirable.”

Garland emphasised the importance of shifting towards lithium-ion batteries. He said, “Other advancements include improvements to power capabilities. With more devices now incorporating lithium-ion batteries, devices now have a better lifespan which ultimately contributes to the overall sustainability of the products we’re bringing to market.

“This is particularly important to service providers who will want to protect their profit margins by providing robust products which will last through their contract agreement.”

Scalable and sustainable

Many of these innovations are aligned with the capabilities and the functionality organisations are looking for.

Morley, from Secure Power, explained that the modular solutions described by Riello’s Jones are exactly what is in demand. He said, “UK businesses are increasingly seeking UPS solutions that offer both adaptability and sustainability. Modular UPS systems are highly prized for their scalability, allowing companies to increase their power protection capacity incrementally.

“This modularity is particularly valuable in today’s fast-paced business environment, where agility and the ability to respond to changing needs quickly are key competitive advantages.”

Organisations across the UK are also putting their sustainability efforts under the microscope, so it is no surprise that sustainability considerations are coming to the fore.

Morley said, “Eco-efficiency ranks high on the list of priorities. UPS systems that offer high-efficiency ratings, particularly during periods of low load, are in demand. Businesses are looking for solutions that not only protect their operations but also align with corporate social responsibility goals and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Goodbye PSTN

One driver of UPS investments is the upcoming retirement of the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Migrating voice telephony services is relatively straightforward for channel providers, but there is a fundamental difference between the old and new phone lines that needs to be addressed. The PSTN delivers voltage from the network to power end devices, while a VoIP phone needs power from the mains, in addition to an internet connection.

With the PSTN, phones continued to operate in the event of a power cut, and this is something companies will need to plan for when migrating away from the network. As such, UPS solutions will be required by more organisations than ever before.

Morley, from Secure Power, explained, “As the United Kingdom gears up for the PSTN switch-off, the importance of UPS is brought sharply into focus. UPS systems are not merely a safeguard against power outages. They’re an integral component in the infrastructure of modern businesses, ensuring continuity in an era of ubiquitous digital communication.”

Morley expects the PSTN switch-off to elevate the role of UPS systems in business continuity planning. He added, “With an increased reliance on digital communications, uninterrupted power will become even more crucial. Businesses will seek robust UPS solutions that can ensure their communication networks, particularly VoIP services, remain operational during power disruptions.”

As a distributor of UPS solution, ProVu Communications has found the most popular UPS device is an entry-level model which provides up to two hours battery back-up for one phone and one router. ProVu’s Garland explained, “This is reflective of our partners’ business models and the need to address Ofcom’s requirements in the lead up to the switch off.”

He added, “The switch-off will certainly help to drive demand for these solutions but, whilst we are seeing demand growing, we encourage our partners to take a more holistic approach to their solutions. Rather than looking for just a single device, we’re working with partners to address the whole set of requirements presented by their customers.”

Garland said that holistic approach will allow partners to ensure their customers are given the best solution for their requirements. He added, “This approach is helping partners to grow their businesses, better support their customers and of course ensure their UPS devices are fit for purpose and future-proof.”

Weighing up partners

When asked what advice he would give to a reseller or MSP looking to add a UPS solution to their portfolio, Garland, from ProVu Communications, said, “Don’t rush! We would suggest you first address what you need the device to deliver and what you will be connecting to it.”

Garland explained that those factors will have an impact on the device power requirements as well as the cables that are needed to connect it to the devices that require back-up power.

He added, “It’s likely these devices will be drop-shipped direct to the end-user, with this in mind you’re also going to want to consider the ease of set up and ongoing maintenance. All of our UPS devices support the connection of three-pin UK power outlets making them simple to connect with no technical knowledge required.

“We carry out rigorous testing on all products we sell, including UPS. If our partners aren’t sure which device they need to fulfil the needs of a customer, we will happily test the specific scenario to ensure the solution we provide is fit for purpose.”

Talking to vendors or manufacturers should also give resellers and MSPs an indication of whether continued research and development is a priority. Morley, from Secure Power, said, “Resellers and MSPs should look to partner with UPS manufacturers that are at the forefront of technological innovation.

“Offering a portfolio that includes IoT-enabled UPS systems provides an attractive proposition to clients, particularly those looking for intelligent power management solutions.”

Morley also pointed to the various add-ons that can be beneficial for the channel community. He said, “In addition to product offerings, providing value-added services such as site surveys, energy audits, and customised power protection plans can significantly enhance a reseller’s or MSP’s market position.

“Education on the importance of UPS systems post-PSTN switch-off and guidance on selecting the right UPS can also be a part of the service offering, ensuring clients receive a comprehensive power protection strategy.”

Jones, from Riello UPS, added, “With so many different types of UPS, manufacturers, and models available to choose from, it’s understandable why some in the IT channel still view the equipment with somewhat of a suspicious eye. But a UPS can be an integral part of many electrical installations so resellers are clearly missing out if they don’t see them as a profitable part of their portfolio.

Jones explained that identifying a suitable UPS partner often “boils down to four key criteria”. He commented, “First and foremost: there’s the manufacturer’s product range. Ideally you want to work with a supplier offering as broad a selection [of products] as possible so that you can offer your customers a wide choice.

“Secondly, there’s the question of stockholding. Will the manufacturer hold the majority of stock and deal with the logistics, or will you need to handle this? That could require significant storage space and cause you a few stock management issues too as, for example, UPS batteries have a specific lifespan and can’t be left sitting idle on the shelf.

“Pre- and post-sales support is another key consideration. What training will the manufacturer provide your reseller team so they can provide informed recommendations? How will they handle any post-sale queries or problems? Their response will naturally impact on your reputation too, so make sure you find out where their technical support is based and how easy they are to get hold of.”

The final area of focus that Jones recommended channel companies consider is warranties. He said these can give partners an indication of “the manufacturer’s confidence in their products”, offering either reassurance or cause for concern.

Jones added, “With most suppliers, the best you’ll get on a new UPS tends to be a one- or two-year guarantee, whereas we offer a five-year extended warranty as standard on all UPS up to 3 kVA because we believe in the robustness and quality of our range.”

Jones emphasised the importance of evaluating all aspects of a potential partner. He said, “When it’s decision time, your choice shouldn’t necessarily come down to price.

“You may find certain manufacturers aren’t necessarily the cheapest option, but when you weigh up the overall package in terms of support, training, and aftercare they will deliver the best value.”

Tomorrow’s challenges

As more business continues to take place in the online world, UPS looks set to continue to deliver opportunities for resellers, dealers and MSPs across the Channel.

For Morley, from Secure Power, UPS is heading towards being at the core of many IT and communications deployments. He said, “As the digital landscape evolves and the energy demands of the UK shift, UPS systems are increasingly seen not just as backup power sources, but as integral components of a robust IT and communications infrastructure.

“With a focus on IoT capabilities, modularity, and energy efficiency, [it is important to provide] UPS solutions that meet the needs of today’s businesses and tomorrow’s challenges.”

As with other areas across the technology stack, success will rest on collaborative partnerships and customer centricity. Jones, from Riello UPS, explained how that can work in practice. He said, “Manufacturers are experts about their products, while you know the ins and outs of your customer base. So share knowledge, information, and ideas to build that relationship.

“And try to get into the mindset of seeing a UPS as something that provides added value to your servers, switches, and other core IT products. Bundling a UPS in as an add-on is a great way to increase average customer spend.”

This market report appeared in our March 2024 print issue. You can read the magazine in full here.