|Choosing a Battery Backup|
| Choosing a Battery Backup|
By Adam Hawkes
So you’re working on a deadline – three days of work culminating in a beautiful presentation that you are sure is going to wow the client. And just as you complete your last change and click “save”, the power in your remodeled warehouse loft studio goes out… again. Your computer shuts off and you sit in the dark wondering if your work was saved, or worse – if your file was damaged! You do have a backup, don’t you?
You’ve heard plenty of horror stories about what happens to computers when the power flickers or goes out… Lost work. Lost files. Failed hardware. Regardless of the eventual outcome, we all know that power failures are not good for computers.
And you’ve probably heard someone say that the solution is a “battery backup.” But what is a battery backup? What does it do? Do I need one? Which one should I get?
A Battery Backup is formally known as an Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS. It looks like an overgrown power strip, but its job is much more important. In short, a UPS is a big battery that will continue to operate your computer when the power fails. But it does more than that.
A power failure is bad for a computer. But a failure is not as bad as a brown-out or a power spike. A brown-out is an incomplete failure of power. The lights dim, and some appliances reset, but the power does not go out. Sometimes the level of power only drops a tiny bit, so that the lights and appliances don’t react. Conversely, a surge or spike is a similar excess in the amount of current being supplied to the computer.
These inconsistencies in supplied power are bad for computers. The components in a computer are very sensitive and they expect to be supplied with “clean” power. Fluctuations in current can cause them to perform erratically, and sometimes even fail. That’s where the UPS does its most important job.
The Uninterruptible Power Supply is a combination of batteries and circuitry designed to provide clean, consistent power to electronic devices. It absorbs power spikes and surges. It fills the gaps when the current drops. It provides power when the electricity goes out. This makes your computer much happier!
If you have a computer, you should have a UPS. Like a proper backup, a UPS is an integral part of protecting your data and your equipment.
Uninterruptible Power Supplies are rated based on the amount of electricity they can supply when the power goes out. This unit of measure is summarized as a “Volt Amp.” Each battery backup unit will have a Volt Amp (VA) rating. In general, the higher the number, the longer that unit will keep your computer on after a power failure. A 1500VA UPS will keep your computer on longer than a 500VA UPS will. However, different computers draw different amounts of current, so one UPS may last longer on one computer compared to another. The key is to buy the UPS that is right for you.
Just to give you a general idea, a 500VA battery would generally be purchased to only power a small home computer and a small flat panel display. A high performance computer with a larger flat panel or CRT display would generally require closer to 1000VA. A large mission critical computer with multiple peripherals and extra drives would demand closer to 1500VA. Servers with RAID drives and backup drives can require 3000VA or more for dependable performance. But the right battery for the job truly depends on the electrical current that the workstation draws.
Most UPS manufacturers have guides on their websites for picking a UPS. Some of them can be quite detailed and overwhelming. But it is worth spending the time to find the right unit. Personally, I consider their recommendations to be “minimum” and would suggest buying a higher rated unit.
Buying an underpowered UPS can have two disadvantages. If the battery is not big enough, it may not be able to provide enough time for you to save your work and shut down your computer. If the battery is not big enough, it may have to work much harder to provide clean power to your computer. This hard work eventually degrades the batteries in the unit and causes premature failure.
The price of a UPS is directly related to its rating. A bigger battery carries a higher price. So your goal is to find the battery that is overqualified for your computer equipment, but not so overqualified that it becomes too expensive for your budget. Of course, within your budget, it is best to err on the high side when it comes to UPS ratings.
So you’ve acquired your shiny new UPS. Now what? The battery does take time to charge, so you should plug it in and turn it on as soon as possible to get started.
Then, you want to attach all of the critical devices that MUST stay on when the power goes out. Usually this includes the computer, the display, any external storage devices and backup devices. It may also include any networking equipment like a cable modem or router. You should be sure to plug these devices into outlets on the UPS marked as battery operated. A UPS is not a power strip. Your goal is not to plug something into every available outlet.
However, some outlets on a UPS may only provide surge protection. Into these non-battery outlets, you might plug your inkjet printer or scanner.
Some devices found in the office should NEVER be plugged into the outlets on a UPS. They draw a very high amount of current and will quickly overwhelm the UPS. They include lamps, laser printers, photo-copiers, shredders and worst of all, heaters. You might consider the distinction to be between electronics and appliances. If you are not sure, err on the side of caution and do not plug the device into the battery.
Once you have plugged your critical electronics into the outlets marked “battery” and plugged your non-critical electronics into the outlets sometimes marked “surge protection only,” you are ready to get back to work.
However, like most batteries, the UPS will not last forever. Over time, the unit’s ability to maintain power during an outage, brown-out or surge will fade. Monitor the UPS for failure lights and test the unit periodically to ensure that it is still operating properly. Some UPS batteries can be replaced, and replacing the batteries when they fail can be a cost effective way to prolong the life of a UPS.
A properly matched UPS should provide you with a few years of dependable service. So get your gear protected and leave one more worry behind!
If you would like assistance with selecting a brand or model of UPS or would like assistance with installing UPS units to protect your business, contact your current RetroTechs Technology Specialist, or our office at (404) 352-6210.
Posted by Elizabeth
on Monday, February 22 2010 - 19:00:00