At Bob Hope Airport, Providing Reliable Backup Power is no Joking Matter

When you think about the sorts of data center environments where uptime is critical, airports may well shoot towards the top of the list. When you have planes in the air that need help from air traffic controllers on the ground to land safely, it’s easy to see why you can’t risk a power outage taking down the systems that support those control systems.

But it’s more than just the data center that needs consistent power, says Rudy Barrow, Director of IT at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, Calif., which serves some 4 million passengers per year. “Our runway lighting system has to be able to function during any kind of outage,” he notes.

Likewise everything from the airport fire department to wall-mounted defibrillators all need reliable power. “You don’t want to have a life saving situation and have to say, ‘We’re sorry, the battery’s dead on this one,’” he says.

Compounding the problem is the fact that parts of the airport are located within Los Angeles city limits, so some of its power is provided by LA utilities. “We might have rolling brownouts or sporadic issues where we have a spike or temporary brownout which could take us out,” Barrow says.

To address the issue, the airport has backup generators but also relies on APC by Schneider Electric UPS units. “The APC [UPSs have] been solid for us because they allow a great, clean transfer into our generators,” he says. In some instances the UPSs also handle power for longer periods, such as if there’s a problem with a generator.

“It’s good knowing that in my back pocket I have that steady power, steady reliability of the APC product,” Barrow says. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything and I don’t have any plans to.”

The airport uses mainly Symmetra UPS he says. The company also uses smaller UPS models to support individual workgroups, such as the accounting department.

And then there are the decidedly non-IT requirements. Besides the runway lights, they include backup power for parking structures and various environmental enclosures. “[For that] we go with some of the smaller 1U rack-mounted [UPS] units and everything including surge protectors,” Barrow says. “We’ve pretty much gone 100% APC.”

During his 20-year career in IT, he says he’s worked at various government agencies and companies that had “trial and error” with different backup solutions. “But the solid rock that we’ve been using at almost all the firms that I’ve dealt with have been the APC products,” he says. “I’ve never had an issue other than changing a battery. Never had a power spike that caused damage to any of our equipment, or a power cycle where it didn’t give us enough power.”

Check out my video interview with Barrow to learn more about the power requirements at Bob Hope Airport and how APC by Schneider Electric UPSs fit the bill.