Do You Know Where Your Electrons Are?
August 01, 2001

By Staff
Appeared in California Real Estate Journal

If you own or manage a commercial building full of tenants--business or residential--you know they're worried about those notorious California blackouts. If it's an office building, you know it's absolutely critical that the lights stay on and the computers are working. But these days, with so many small businesses working out of home offices, it's no less critical for your residential tenants to have a reliable source of power and uninterrupted use of their computers.

Syska and Hennessy, a nationwide company with offices in Los Angeles, has been in the business of engineering buildings for data transmission since 1927. Of course, in those days, data transmission was done mostly by telephone. But now, S & H has gone digital and fiberoptic. And with the recent spate of rolling blackouts, the company has positioned itself to engineer safe and reliable backup power systems. You could say that if it has anything to do with moving electrons, Syska and Hennessy is there to help plan and build a way to do it. It is a design, engineering and construction firm. Under its name, it uses the subhead "OnlinEnvironments."

"We consult and we build," said Dan McNary, a vice president of the company.

"We are a turnkey provider.

"We provide the crucial connections for data center equipment in commercial office buildings and industrial areas. We work with some of the larger financial institutions--banks and brokerages. We do their data center work. They have their main accounts receivable, accounts payable, all their data processing and storage in -house and we plan, engineer, design and build and operate those systems," McNary said.

"We build the facilities that use fiberoptics, and we can house the transmission equipment. They can build the equipment and we build the facility around the equipment and the network architecture so the facility meets the needs of the client. Or we can turn a room into a data center space, and inside that space there's a chain link fence around the data center. We do Web hosting for the big Fortune 500 companies.

"We sell reliability. If you've got to connect to your customer through a piece of equipment--a server--that server is critical and important. And when we talk about reliability and power, everything is associated with a chain of reliability. Security, physical security, and reliability of operations. Too often, companies build backup systems, but don't maintain and operate them properly. We see people going in and spending a lot of money building backup systems, but you gotta know it's going to work. So you have to maintain those infrastructures."

S & H's Web site says, "Thousands of companies across California and the U.S. have never adequately tested their infrastructure or information systems to see if they could survive a manmade outage or natural catastrophe that could shut down their operations and cost them millions of dollars in lost business."

McNary said his company has a large client base including banks, most of which understand the importance of maintaining their data storage and transmission infrastructure and their backup generators and batteries. "But the newer ones don't understand the fact that unless you exercise the generator, it won't work." And without your backup, when the lights go out, your telecom and data systems go out with it."

Right now, says McNary, many data centers are way overbuilt, a result of the overly enthusiastic dotcom boom of a couple of years ago. "Everyone thought we were going to have cell phones with broadband, and they went out and built the broadband infrastructure way too fast. Ninety percent of the fiberoptics in place are not being used, and 70 percent of the data center infrastructure is underused. There was a lot of talk about turning off your gas appliance at home with your cell phone. But that market hasn't developed just yet."

Meanwhile, the company is emphasizing its ability to provide backup power sources. Some companies with "mission critical" data storage and transmission facilities are moving out of California entirely. Others are installing backup power. But the company warns that backup power meant to operate fire alarms and emergency lights may not be approved by local authorities to run mainframes and computers. Companies trying to do this without authorization can be shut down and suffer penalties imposed by fire departments, air quality districts, local utilities and city governments. The company also warns that backup systems must be the right size to do the job, and need to be tested to find out if they can handle the loads imposed not only by data systems, but elevators, fire alarms, emergency lighting and sprinklers.

Syska and Hennessy warns that companies should think about renting generators now, instead of waiting for blackouts that could impact their businesses to the tune of several millions of dollars. And the company suggests finding a reliable fuel supply rather than waiting for an emergency.