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Avoid the Risk: Safeguard Data with Uninterruptible Power Supplies.

Ever been relaxing at home, in front of the television or working on your computer, when suddenly the power went out? It`s annoying to miss a favorite show or lose a project you are working on, isn`t it? Well, what is merely an annoyance in our personal lives can be costly and even fatal to the livelihood of small and medium-size businesses (SMBs).

Storms, human error, and disturbances on your utility’s power grid can knock out power or create power fluctuations that unexpectedly shut down or fry IT equipment.  When power fails, every device re-boots and all unsaved data vaporizes in an instant, tasking IT managers with figuring out how much and which types of data have been lost.  The result?  Downtime, lost or corrupted data, costly repairs – and in extreme cases, even the end of a business.

That may sound like hyperbole, but Symantec’s 2009 SMB Disaster Preparedness Survey found that the average SMB experienced three outages within the past 12 months, with an estimated cost of $15,000 per day on average.  Additionally, one in four respondents reported losing important data.  Power outages are typically shorter than two days, but if a power outage costs you important data and damages or destroys key components of your data systems, then you have enough of an IT outage to threaten the life of your business.

But on the bright side, power and data losses are easily avoidable.   SMBs can safeguard IT equipment with uninterruptible power supply (UPS) devices that provide surge protection and battery backup. A well-designed UPS system can be a savior in power outages – it enables users to manually save data in a computer’s random access memory (RAM) before it is lost.  Even during fleeting outages, UPS devices allow employees to keep working until the problem is resolved.

The menu of options:
There are several categories of UPS systems:

  1.  Offline.
  2.  Line-interactive.
  3.  Online.

The most affordable option is the offline UPS, also known as stand-by UPS.  You get what you pay for, as offline is generally the least reliable and most inflexible type of system.  It uses the alternating current (AC) line as the principal power source, and when a power disturbance or outage occurs, the offline UPS switches to battery power to protect the devices it supports – at least long enough to rescue data and shut them down manually.  If you have inexpensive or non-critical computers, are a one-person show or have a tiny business, an offline UPS might be best for you.  If it’s all you can afford, it’s far better than no protection at all.

The line-interactive UPS is more suitable for mid-size enterprises than offline options.  When an over-voltage or under-voltage occurs, the line-interactive UPS corrects the force of the voltage without switching completely to battery power.  It’s a step up from an offline UPS, because it reduces the number of fail-overs and associated reboots/recoveries, and line-interactive UPS does have longer battery life as a result.

Online, or double-conversion, UPS is the top choice for companies that need reliable protection for sensitive equipment.  It provides the most efficient power protection and battery backup available and is built for highly critical IT equipment.  The device takes incoming power from the local utility, converts it from AC to direct current (DC) and then re-converts it to AC, filtering out spikes and noise to provide “clean,” perfectly modulated power to IT equipment.  If there’s an outage, the online UPS battery takes over more seamlessly than other categories of UPS, because it is connected to the power inverter and therefore always ‘online’ between the principal power source and the equipment.

Choosing the right UPS

SMBs consider a number of variables when deciding which type of UPS to purchase:

  •  How big is your company and how fast is it growing?  The bigger the company and faster its growth, the more advanced the UPS strategies should be – partly because you have more at risk than a smaller organization, but also because you probably employ more critical IT equipment that is sensitive to power fluctuation and loss.
  •  Have you implemented virtualization or blade servers?  These technologies may reduce total power requirements for your company, but they use much more power per cubic foot of data center space, so your old power protection systems may be inadequate – potentially less stable because of the increased demand.  Don’t under-size your UPS just because you’ve virtualized or implemented blade servers.
  •  What is your outage cost (the cost of your IT downtime)?  Consider the type of UPS as part of your overall business continuity/disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan.  One of the first steps of a BC/DR plan is determining your recovery time objective (RTO), or the amount of time applications can afford to be down – the maximum tolerable outage.  If your business can tolerate longer downtimes, you may be able to get away with an offline or line-interactive UPS.  If not, online is the best way to go.
  •  Do you use a standby power generator, and if so, how big is it?  Some line-interactive UPS systems won’t handle generator change-overs well because of the magnitude of power fluctuation they cause.  Some will, but if not, you’ll need to use an online UPS.

 User-friendliness is also an important consideration.  Can you swap the UPS hardware out yourself, or will you need an electrician?  Determine if you have enough power distribution receptacles, and if they are the right type.

Managing tips

Once you’ve settled on the right type of UPS system, don’t just plug it in and forget it.  Here are some tidbits to remember:

  • Remote Management:   Many UPS systems can be managed conveniently through a dedicated IP address and a standard Web browser, while simultaneously providing graceful shutdown for multiple computer systems over the network.  They work with the UPS software and the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) card.
  •  Out with the old, In with the new:   When considering an upgrade, instead of adding to an old system, it’s best to un-install the old and buy a completely new system because the components in UPS – especially the batteries – do have limited life.
  •  Remember the Emergency Power Off (EPO):  The National Electrical Code (NEC) Section 645-10 mandates that power to HVAC and computer equipment must be terminated by switches at the exit doors of the data center to facilitate an immediate shutdown in the event of an emergency.  Power is terminated by an EPO circuit switch, which should be visible, accessible, and illuminated so employees can kill power immediately in cataclysmic conditions.  The EPO switch should also be protected, so it is not tripped by accident.
  •  Don’t fail the test:  Implementing UPS isn’t enough.  To ensure that you’re protected effectively, test your power backup systems and procedures semi-annually.

According to Forrester and the Disaster Recovery Journal, 42 percent of disaster recovery decision makers indicated that a power failure was the cause of their most significant major business disruption.    Avoid the risk:  a properly configured and managed UPS system can mitigate the risk of data loss, ruined hardware and long bouts of downtime.

About the author:Brandon Zimmerman

Brandon has worked with CDW for nine years and has been a power specialist for the past four years. His area of focus is data center and server room infrastructure, including backup power systems, power distribution design, environmental and power monitoring, cooling systems and capacity planning. Brandon works with major manufacturers including APC/MGE, Eaton/Powerware, Liebert, Tripplite and Netbotz.

For information about CDW and the products mentioned in this article, please visit www.cdw.com

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