For data center managers, avoiding downtime and service delays is not merely desirable. It’s imperative. Every outage or delay carries the risk of service interruption and data corruption for a business whose customers expect nothing less than 100-percent availability.
A fundamental and often overlooked contributor to data center uptime is clean and reliable power. With it, data center managers help maintain continuous operation. Without it, the prospect of downtime can shift from a risk to an inevitability. Why would data center pros take a risk that may compromise their ability to enable 100-percent uptime?
It seems like a no-brainer, yet it’s surprising how frequently data center managers risk compromising their power infrastructure by using electrical-distribution products that are not new or fully traceable to the original manufacturer. The use of such products, which can include molded-case circuit breakers, can lead to facility and system outages resulting in revenue loss for the business. More importantly, the use of such products is entirely avoidable.
In this article, we’ll explore the ways in which a data center manager might be compromising system reliability to save cost as well as the risks that these products pose to data center infrastructure. Finally, we’ll look at some tips to help avoid procuring protective devices from sources that lack a relationship with the original manufacturer.
Understanding the Risks
There are many ways in which managers can procure electrical products that are difficult to trace to the original manufacturer. Typically, data center managers or contractors will purchase from a distributor or dealer specializing in electrical products such as molded-case circuit breakers. Yet not all distributors employ the same business practices and, depending on the distributor, some may promise a considerably better price for the equipment. Alternatively, the nature of distribution agreements may prohibit distributors from purchasing products from competing manufacturers, and these distributors in turn may look to the “gray market” to get a better rate for the equipment.
When purchasing this way, there is simply no way of telling what you might end up with. Suspect products with unknown origins may be refurbished by someone without the knowledge of how to correctly do so or, alternatively, they may be used and not refurbished at all, leaving them prone to failure or malfunction. In more serious circumstances, products may be faulty or damaged in ways that are invisible, leading to poorly functioning equipment at best or, worse, safety hazards for the user.
Another risk is the potential for counterfeit products, which can be virtually impossible to differentiate from the real thing. In fact, when placed side by side, even the most seasoned contractor or distributor may have trouble discerning between the real and the counterfeit. The risk can include all those outlined above—safety hazards, faulty equipment or equipment that doesn’t work at all.
The main thing to understand is the level of risk inherent in buying with uncertainty. The unknown can cause unacceptable outcomes to the data center power infrastructure, leading to lost or corrupted files, hardware malfunctions or damage, and greater risk of employee injury at the time of failure.
Fortunately, purchasing non-authentic electrical products such as molded-case circuit breakers or fuses is entirely avoidable if data center managers simply follow a few steps.
Securing Your Data Center With Authentic Products
To avoid the unknown and mitigate the risk of procuring faulty products, data center professionals should follow these practices.
1. Purchase directly from an authorized distributor. If you cannot trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer, you are putting your data center at risk of procuring inauthentic products. For this reason, when working with a contractor or distributor, it’s critical to ask where the products came from and to seek proof they have been purchased from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or resellers.
Trusted manufacturers are expanding their supply programs to help authorized distributors source and supply authentic products quickly and efficiently to end users. For example, Eaton offers its Power of Authenticity program, providing competitive prices, stocking programs, authorized service centers and loyalty programs so end users can rest assured that the products they receive are authentic.
By taking the time to ensure only genuine products are procured directly from authorized resellers, you can help prevent unplanned outages, reduce costs and mitigate safety risks associated with faulty equipment.
2. Conduct a thorough evaluation. It’s critical to thoroughly evaluate your components to confirm their authenticity. The untrained eye, however, may find it tough to differentiate between authentic products and lookalikes.
Be leery of poor-quality labels with legacy branding, missing date codes and extraneous markings or labeling that looks like it was applied by someone other than the original manufacturer. The original manufacturer will use branded packaging on nearly all component products for easier identification. Eaton, for instance, provides laser-marked labels for molded-case circuit breakers (MCCBs), which require more-sophisticated technology to manufacture and are designed to be more tamper resistant, helping to authenticate each circuit breaker throughout its life cycle.
Also, when buying electrical equipment, be cautious of “bargains.” Compare the price of products to similar products at a different retailer. If the price seems too good to be true, it likely is.
Finally, use tools provided by the original manufacturer or certification organizations to verify your electrical device’s authenticity. Such tools may use mobile apps that scan information from the product label to help determine whether a product is authentic.
3. Report suspect products or distributors. If you suspect a product to be reconditioned, counterfeit or otherwise different than what you intended to purchase, report it to the brand owner immediately. Doing so will allow authentication of the suspect device and ensure that potentially unsafe product are removed from the marketplace.
The more information a manufacturer has, the better the chance it can find similar products and remove them from the marketplace to protect consumers. When reporting potentially dangerous products, disclose the product vendor’s name, business name, address, domain name and any other identifiers.
The risk of system failure or downtime owing to suspect equipment is one no data center facility should take. Genuine electrical products can help managers ensure that systems maintain operational efficiency by providing clean and reliable power to the infrastructure. To make sure that suspected non-genuine equipment never interrupts their customers’ businesses, data center professionals should always take the time and effort to ensure that the products they purchase trace back to the original product manufacturer.
About the Author
Tom Grace has a BS degree from the University of South Florida. He has a diverse background in information technology, sales and marketing. His experience includes 16 years with Eaton, where he is currently the anti-counterfeiting and brand-protection manager for the Americas Electrical Sector. He is also a member of the Eaton global anti-counterfeit advisory committee. Tom is actively engaged with federal agencies and local law enforcement. He has conducted anti-counterfeit training at most of the major U.S. ports. Tom is also engaged with industry associations such as UL, CSA, NAED and NEMA.