Keeping IT equipment safe from power outages

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Summer is power season, as demand for electric power spikes. Air conditioning and other power demands strain utilities, making brownouts (temporary drops in voltage) and blackouts as common as mosquito bites. Not to mention severe weather events like thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes that can knock out electricity.

For many, these outages are mere inconveniences. But organizations risk losing sensitive data when a sudden power outage knocks computers and servers offline, especially if the power remains out for hours. A surge protector won’t save you from these outages, no matter the time of year.

The first line of defense against brownouts and blackouts is an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), which provides continuous power during an outage. But different organizations and different hardware will need different power protections. By understanding power requirements and the types of UPS that are available, you can give your organization the protection it deserves.

Determine your power requirements

Most computers and electronics operate effectively on 90 to 110 percent of their rated input requirements. For example, devices rated for 120 volts work normally at voltages from 108 to 132. When utility power drops below 90 percent, some UPS systems draw electric power from batteries, keeping systems operational. Once the utility power returns to normal, the UPS switches back to utility power output and recharges its battery. In case of a blackout, a UPS will provide power long enough for users to safely shut down equipment, preventing data loss or equipment damage.

But what power protection do you need? Determine your company’s needs by understanding three components of power management: capacity, runtime, and application load.

Capacity describes how much power a UPS system provides. The higher the capacity of the UPS, the more connected equipment it can support, or devices that draw more power. To calculate your required capacity, add up the maximum total power consumption of the devices you expect to connect to the UPS. This total load is the minimum capacity your UPS system should have. Here are a few examples.

  • A newer desktop computer will draw 80 to 250 watts; an LCD monitor, additional internal hard drive, or separate graphics card will increase that number.
  • External hard drives have a broad range of power consumption; check the requirements for each one before connecting it to a UPS.
  • Other devices, such as networking hardware and telecommunications equipment, should be connected to a UPS if they are mission critical.
  • Printers should not be connected to UPS systems; their power consumption is very high, and you probably don’t need them when safe shutdown is your top priority.

Runtime is how long a UPS system can support a given load. Every UPS must provide sufficient power long enough for connected devices to shut down without equipment damage or data loss. This can range from a few seconds to several minutes. For example, a connected computer would need at least enough time for the user — or automated UPS software — to save open documents and close applications. If more than one device is connected, the one that takes the longest time to shut down determines the minimum runtime. To continue using equipment during longer outages, users would need a separate power source, such as a generator.

Application refers to voltage and frequency requirements of all devices. Most computers, monitors, and other hardware require 120V AC power at 60 Hz. Ensure that the voltage and frequency of the UPS matches the requirements of all connected devices.

Find a UPS that is right for you

UPS systems are designed as one of three types: standby, line interactive, and double conversion. Each possesses its own advantages and level of protection, and some combination of these three categories will likely cover every device in your IT environment.

Standby. UPS systems with standby topology offer guaranteed power protection for desktop computers, workstations, personal electronics, and home networking/VoIP. They provide simulated sine wave battery backup power during outages, maintain steady voltage during brownouts and blackouts, and offer surge protection against overvoltages and power spikes.

Standby UPS topology

Line interactive. UPS systems with line interactive topology feature automatic voltage regulation (AVR) that corrects minor power fluctuations (brownouts, over voltages, etc.) without switching to the battery. They are used in small- to medium-sized business and home applications to protect computers, servers, networking hardware, and telecom equipment — and to safeguard irreplaceable data.

Line interactive UPS topology

Double conversion. UPS systems with double conversion topology are always online, converting AC utility power to DC, routing it to the UPS battery and inverting it again to produce clean, isolated power for critical equipment and applications. They deliver the highest levels of protection — providing sine wave output, zero transfer time, and stable frequency. Double conversion systems meet the most demanding requirements of large enterprises.

Double conversion UPS topology

Stay online when the power is out

Brownouts and blackouts are inconvenient at best, but downright dangerous to your bottom line when they last for hours. At worst, power outages can cause irrecoverable data loss and equipment damage, and result in critical downtime that costs valuable time and money.

In the summer, power outages seem to be as common as backyard cookouts. Of course, they’re a threat no matter the time of year. That’s why you must choose UPS systems that keep equipment secure and devices running smoothly when utility power falters or fails. Get ahead of blackouts or brownouts by asking your SHI account executive about UPS systems today.

Jonah Cagley of CyberPowerAbout the author

Jonah Cagley is the Vice President of Marketing for Cyber Power Systems (USA), Inc., and has been with the company since 2009. Over his career, he has led marketing and communication initiatives for multiple consumer- and business-focused technology companies. Jonah is a graduate of Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and lives in Maple Grove, Minn.