The Importance of an Uninterruptible Power Supply, Part 1

by | Apr 6, 2021 | Technology Strategy

Over the last few years, large areas of the country have been affected by rolling blackouts, whether they were weather-related, accidental, or part of a concerted effort to conserve energy in some of the nation’s more populous areas. In many cases, these power outages can result in significant damage to business operations if proper protocols are not implemented, which can mean productivity and revenue losses for businesses that rely heavily on the supply chain, such as manufacturing or agribusinesses.

In part one of this three-part series, we examine the importance of having an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), the various types of UPSes, and how they’re used in today’s business landscape.

What is a UPS?

A UPS is used to provide power to equipment such as workstations, printers, servers, switches, routers, and firewalls in the event of the loss of utility power. This is distinct from a power generator, as generators tend to run for extended periods of time on fuel such as  deisel , whereas a UPS is usually a battery-based power source that can be used to bridge the gap between the time of a power outage and when a generator “kicks on.”

UPSes are used in offices, data centers, and other areas where sensitive or critical equipment is located; they prevent a sudden and unexpected loss of power from damaging equipment – or data stored on the equipment.

Different types of UPSes

It is standard to think of UPSes in two major classes:

  • Building or Data Center UPSes provide main power (or a significant subset of main power) to equipment in a larger area and over multiple electrical circuits.
  • Workstation or equipment rack UPSes provide a small number of electrical circuits to power a single workstation, server, or small set of servers and related equipment in a server rack.

While building or data center UPSes are considered critical, this particular discussion centers around workstation and equipment rack UPSes that can be used across an organization or in a large server room. For these, there are two main types:

Stand by UPSes monitor the main incoming power (most often utility power) and within milliseconds, provide auxiliary power (normally from a battery) should a loss of main power be detected.

Always-on UPSes take the incoming power and re-generate power to the attached devices, providing “clean” and consistent power to those devices, and protecting them from surges or brown-outs which may not necessarily trigger a switch to the auxiliary power. These will usually provide the cleanest transfer of power in the event of a power failure.

Design considerations for UPS use

There are some design considerations to keep in mind when deciding on the type, size, and configuration of the UPS:

  • Currently available incoming power. You will need to know what kind and capacity of power you have available to you, and how that compares with the power requirements of the equipment to which you want to provide power.
  • Cost of providing desired incoming power. If there is insufficient power (either in terms of voltage or amperage), you will want to know what the cost will be to bring in the kind of power you need (whether this is just making an outlet available to the location, providing a dedicated circuit at the location to provide sufficient amperage, or providing higher voltage than is normally used).
  • The number and kind of outlets needed to provide connectivity to the equipment.  Outlets vary depending on the voltages provided and Amps available on each circuit.  Usually, you will see either IEC 60320 outlets (typically C19 or C13) or NEMA outlets (typically 5-15R, 5-20R, or a twist lock version of these.

UPS maintenance best practices

As with most things, much of the cost for any significant asset is in the care and maintenance of a device, not the acquisition price. Look at warranty and support options associated with the equipment you are interested in purchasing, as well as the risk/reward of planning on just replacing a failed unit if/when it goes down.

Don’t forget to consider the batteries. They are more likely to degrade over time than the main part of the UPS itself. ZAG typically plans on battery replacement every 3 to 5 years, and UPS replacement every 7 to 10 years. Smaller UPSes (in the 150W to 300W range), which may be used in somewhat harsh environments, might need to be replaced every 1 to 2 years.

In large corporate environments, where there can be dozens or even hundreds of UPSes, it is best to acquire centralized management software so that UPS status and age can be managed through frequent reports or alerts. The majority of larger UPSes designed for network and server use come with some sort of network connectivity and have both serial and network access to a UPS console. Those with network connectivity can also be queried using standard SNMP queries, which provide several different means of centralized management.

Security of UPS devices

Finally, as with any network-connected device, security is a critical consideration. Other than providing switch-to-battery alerts to supported servers or centralized management connectivity, there is no need for a UPS to talk to servers, workstations, printers, or network devices (except perhaps those directly connected to the UPS). Network security configurations should bear this in mind.

When identifying the right UPS for your organization’s needs, keeping these factors in mind will help guide the decision-making process and provide a strong starting point and framework for implementation. In our next blog, we will discuss power outlets, voltage requirements, and amperage so you can make sure you’re looking at the right power supply options. Want to chat about your UPS needs? Contact us for additional guidance.

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