Analysis: Power outages causing network rethink

Power cuts have been grabbing the headlines, bringing into sharp focus our increasing reliance on IT systems and the networks used to access them.

Moreover, what with global warming, soaring energy bills and unrest in the Middle East, there's never been a more appropriate time for companies to re-think both contingency plans and their long term energy strategies.

On the plus side the IT industry itself is trying to provide some of the answers. Server vendors, for example, are increasingly keen to talk up energy saving features. Admittedly, mostly as a means of cramming yet more processors into the same space but, factor virtualisation into the equation and it's equally possible to grow performance while reducing overall power consumption.

Then there's Power over Ethernet (PoE), another recent innovation which not only makes it cheaper and easier to power network devices, but better manage that delivery. Look for increasing emphasis being put on this technology with calls, for instance, to enhance the 802.3af standard to deliver enough wattage to power things like desktop PCs and printers over the LAN.

That said, one of the main drivers behind PoE is Voice over IP, and the convergence that goes with it means even greater reliance on network availability. Power cuts on a conventional network can mean loss of e-mail, on a converged network they can stop the phone working too.

Added to which recent events have highlighted growing dependence on service suppliers and the need to make sure that those providers are properly equipped to handle power outs. Compensation is all very well, but unlikely to make up for the business lost when a provider is unable to supply the service you've paid for.

It's worth remembering too that duplication and redundancy still have their place. Take consolidation too far and companies can become over reliant on a limited set of resources.

Similarly, when convergence is taken to the limit it's possible for a simple power outage or device failure to cripple an entire organisation.