It’s Summer time! Time for enjoying the weather, having a BBQ with friends and family, going on vacations, finding activities for your kids to do so they don’t nag you daily, etc… . But at Weston Technology Solutions, there’s something else that we always think of when Summer rolls around: Thunderstorms and construction season. Lightning storms and construction — and the power issues that come with them — can cause some serious issues to servers, workstation, network equipment and more. A sudden power surge, power dip (also known as a brown out), or complete loss of power can wreak havoc to your business if critical hardware is not protected. How can you help prevent problems? By protecting your systems with a properly-rated Uninterruptible power supply (UPS – also known as a battery backup).
Unless you have a properly installed and grounded lightning rod, there is very little you can do to protect from a direct lightning strike during a storm, other than to disconnect equipment entirely from power, network, or any other connection that eventually makes its way outside (whole building surge protectors can help reduce the damage, but that’s beyond the scope of this article – talk to a licensed electrician for more information). Thankfully, direct lightning strikes are fairly uncommon in our region, but the power surges, dips, and outages that occur during those storms are quite common. That’s where a properly-built UPS can help protect your critical business hardware.
Modern UPS devices have surge protection hardware in them that will help keep the surges at bay, but their most useful feature is to provide power when power dips or fails. A UPS has a battery in it that will keep the voltage steady during power dips, or will keep power flowing briefly in the event of a complete outage. Depending on the size and capacity of the UPS, it may be able to keep your server from going offline the duration of the outage.
The biggest key, however, is if you’re going to plug a server or workstation into a UPS, you connect the UPS’s monitoring cable to your machine and you install the monitoring software that is included it with it. This software will allow you to monitor the health and capacity of the battery inside the UPS.
Its greatest benefit is that the software can cleanly shut down the machine it is attached to before the battery runs complete dead. A machine that suddenly loses power and shuts off without doing a clean shutdown can have serious data corruption requiring a restore or recovery from backup and causing you even more downtime than the power outage did. Monitoring software will help to avoid this by saving in-use data and cleanly shutting the computer off when battery level reaches a certain point.
We’ve had to rebuild and restore more than a few servers that had a good UPS, but didn’t have the monitoring properly installed so the server did a hard shutdown when they completely drained out of power (we check on this at least quarterly for our CompleteCare clients so they don’t have to worry).
So now that you know you need a good UPS, how do you know the capacity you need? UPSs are typically rated in Voltage-Amps (VA), which is a confusing rating for most people as they have no idea what a VA is and how many VAs their equipment needs. We recommend APC and Eaton UPSs and APC has a great tool (Eaton has a similar tool) to help you figure out the level of protection you need. You can put in the types of devices and model numbers of the hardware you have, desired run-time, extra power you’ll need for the future, and it will give you a rough estimate as to the type of UPS you’ll need. At the bare minimum, we recommend a 550VA UPS for workstations or general network equipment and at least a 1500VA-rated UPS for servers (or more, depending on the required runtime or power-draw of the machine).