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More reasons to buy a UPS

Nov 10, 20034 mins
Backup and RecoveryEnterprise Applications

Most of you still think power protection is optional. Think again.

Power conditioning and backup equipment purchases tend to be “reactive,” a nice word for users finally getting scared enough to protect themselves. Even so, research by the leader in the consumer and small business power protection products, American Power Conversion, shows only about a quarter of home and small offices are protected by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS). Worse, only a quarter of those use supplied software to properly shut down their systems if the power outage lasts long enough to exhaust their batteries, so the systems crash anyway.

I am surprised at how the UPS business has changed over the past decade. If you haven’t looked closely, you may believe some of the same old myths about UPS I did, so I got an update from APC.

First, UPS units are much cheaper. You can protect a single PC for as little as $29, a PC and 17-inch monitor for about $40. APC says one hour of downtime costs more than a UPS system to avoid it.

On APC’s Web site you’ll find UPS Selector guides to help you pick the product you need, based on the power you need and the time you want to keep the systems running. Obviously, more staying power means bigger batteries and more money. But many UPS units connect to computers via a standard USB cable and will shut down the computer, closing all applications and files gracefully, before the battery power runs out. Since you’re out of the office more than in, this type of protection will cover you whenever power stops. Plus, many items that need a UPS are out of sight, such as servers in another room and electronic gear in wiring closets.

Second, you do much more on your computer than you did 10 years ago. Back then, you didn’t have your online banking history, stock portfolio, and hundreds of family photos on your PC. Now many of you do. Most of your business information lives in your computer. You have more to protect.

There are also more dangers to your system than power outages. Spikes overload components as too much voltage comes through the wire, and sags (or brownouts) overheat computer components as they must increase the current when voltage drops to keep the system running.

Reader Jim Brucker wrote saying Dell tech support reinforced something I’d said in a previous column: Power problems cause system problems. One Windows XP system at Brucker’s company had a scrambled driver because of power outages, and another suffered hard disk failure.

Third, UPS systems protect more than the AC power line. Any plug into your computer can carry spikes, including phone lines to modems, Ethernet cables and coax cable. Modern UPS systems offer surge protectors for phone lines, Ethernet cables and even coax connections, so check the features list. These models might cost a bit more, but they do offer more protection.

Finally, you have more devices that need protection today. If you protect a server, you keep that server up for everyone. But you better provide power protection to the wiring hubs, switches and routers between the clients and servers if you want to keep working.

Add up the cost of various network components, and you’ll get them their own UPSes as well. Besides the products mentioned, you may have print servers, network-attached storage systems, wireless access points and backup systems. SOHO users should buy a UPS for their home electronics gear (TV, stereo, DVD player, TiVO or equivalent, VCR, and home theater amplifier). One UPS will protect them all; just take the plug strip supporting all your media devices and plug it into the UPS.

UPS system improvements include hot-swappable batteries so you can replace used batteries without taking down your systems. Yes, batteries sometimes need replacing.

Travelers will want to check out the APC TravelPower case. This laptop bag includes recharging connections for your laptop, PDA and cell phone. One plug out from the bag recharges them all.

Further peace of mind comes with APC’s new warranty on desktop units. If your systems are damaged when protected, the company will repair or replace them. If your hard disk gets scrambled, APC will pay to send it to a data recovery specialist — for free.