by August 1, 2011 0 comments

With growing reliance on IT for business success, the need to use technology to protect IT assets themselves from failure and data loss has also become extremely critical. IT equipment failure can happen due to many reasons, but the one we want to focus on in this article is power. Our country is plagued by a variety of power problems, which necessitates the need for equipment that can provide backup as well as power conditioning. In other words, a UPS that only provides power backup isn’t sufficient. You also need to provide clean power to your equipment. That’s because there are quite a few power problems out there (see box), which can damage your IT equipment. Let’s understand what these power problems are and what sort of impact they can have on your IT equipment. After that, we’ll understand how to choose the right type of IT equipment.

Some Common Power Problems

Blackouts: As the name reflects, is the total loss of utility power and is caused by excessive pressure on power grid. It causes loss of work in RAM and drive.

Sag/Brownout: This is a short-term dip in voltage due to too much power consumption. Excessive use of air condition for instance, can cause sags.

Spike: Means an instant increase in voltage due to accidents and is extremely harmful, as it can cause damage to all units connected with the mains.

Surge: A short-term, sudden increase in voltage caused when a high power device like AC is switched off.

The Impact of Power Problems

The first thing to understand is the impact that power problems can have on IT equipment, if not backed up with proper power conditioning equipment. If there’s a power outage, and your UPS doesn’t switchover to battery backup quickly enough, your systems will reboot, causing you to loose all unsaved data. If there’s a power surge, and your UPS doesn’t have appropriate surge protection, then the surge will zip right through and damage all IT equipment that’s being powered by it. In extreme cases, the equipment could get burnt out. If there’s a power fluctuation, and your UPS is not able to handle it, then it can create bad sectors on the hard disks in your system. This will lead to data loss and frequent system crashes. The impact of these power problems will depend upon the value of data and the equipment. And this will multiply with the number of systems being protected.

UPS Buying Patterns Amongst SMEs

As one can imagine, there’s a lot at stake if your IT equipment is not protected properly from power problems. Most small and mid-sized organizations tend to ignore the importance of choosing the right power conditioning equipment, largely due to lack of awareness, which impacts them dearly in the long run. The way organizations purchase equipment varies by their size. For instance, the way a small office buys UPS is completely different from the way a big office would, which will be different from how a medium businesses would buy. Small offices buy according to the nature of their business. For e.g. a cyber café would buy computer and UPS because thier business demands it. If you move to a small business, it would also buy, but it’s mostly reactive in nature, buying only if its competitors are buying. Travel agents or manufacturing companies will buy IT for value added services and not because of the nature of their business, but because their rivals have done it. Medium businesses are the most evolved SMB, and their buying is pro-active in nature. They are IT savvy and include financial services, IT companies or automotive companies.

Second biggest problem is the lack of proper buying avenues for SMBs. To purchase a UPS, an SMB owner can approach a dealer or a website. If he goes to a dealer, the dealer will push a product that will fetch him more money and so some dealers will sell him any product without understanding customer needs. Normally, cheaper brands give more margins to the dealer than better brands. So when a customer is buying a UPS, he should take it from a website and make himself educated about it beforehand, because being an uneducated customer can be painful later.

Types of UPSs

There are primarily three types of UPS systems: Offline, Online and Line interactive. Knowing the difference between them would help you choose the right one for your IT load.

Caveat Emptor: Over-rated UPSs

When you go out to buy a UPS, you’ll find their ratings defined in VAs or kVAs. A home UPS for instance, would be rated as 500 VA, 600 VA, etc. While larger UPSs would be rated in kVAs. The thing to be noted here is that VA doesn’t directly translate to Watts. The actual power being provided to the load is determined by the UPS’s efficiency, also known as the power factor. So if the UPS’s efficiency is .95, then a 100 VA UPS would only deliver 95W to the load, and the remaining would be lost. So ask for the UPS efficiency before buying to see how much VA is it actually going to deliver to the load. A lot of local UPSs have over rated VA ratings, due to which they handle lower load than they actually should.

Offline UPS: The simplest type of UPS, which is mostly obsolete now. An offline UPS as the name suggests, switches to battery in case of mains failure. So there’s a definite switchover time, and the voltage being supplied during this switchover time must be above 220V. Otherwise, if a PC is connected to the load, it will reboot. Some local UPS manufacturers tend to ignore this aspect of switchover time.

Line-Interactive UPS: This type of UPS regularly monitors the incoming line voltage so as to regulate voltage fluctuations. The output of this type of UPS when on battery is usually a quasi sine wave.

Online UPS: This is the best UPS technology of the three, because there’s no switchover time in this. Plus, it offers a pure and clean sine wave output, meaning all the distortions coming in from the mains get cleaned out before reaching the load. This type of UPS is the safest for mission critical load, like servers in your data center.

Some UPS Buying Tips

After Sales Support to keep in mind: As most UPSs are not backed by a comprehensive replacement warranty, it becomes important to buy a good UPS in the first place. For instance, UPS makers don’t usually provide warranty against damages caused by voltage spikes. Besides that, ask what type of support will the UPS vendor provide you? In case of failure, will they send an engineer on a single call, correct the problem, and in case the UPS needs replacing, also provide you a temporary standby?

UPS that conditions power: A UPS isn’t just expected to provide power backup, but also clean power. That’s because quality of power is a big problem in our country. 6-8 hours of scheduled power cuts on a daily basis is still common in many states. However, availability of power doesn’t solve the problem, quality of power is equally important. Unfortunately, good quality power conditioning equipment is not available that easily. Therefore, users should use IPC-based UPS to avoid damage to hardware and data due to spikes or burnouts. Damage to printers, routers, switches, PC, desktop, servers is just the one dimension of damage. The cost of data loss is three times the cost of the server.

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Quality UPS is a necessity, not a luxury: Having a quality UPS is not a luxury but a necessity. SMBs need to be more educated in terms of buying. They should know basics like TCO, because in UPS, TCO is extremely critical. Upfront cost is not important because when you buy a UPS you use it with the battery. So, the cost that is incurred on charging the battery from UPS will depend on the efficiency of UPS. So, selecting a good quality UPS is important.

Battery Recharging: SMBs should buy a UPS that saves energy by charging your battery faster and by consuming lesser electricity. Since, SMBs have a limited budget, the need to have a quality power back-up solution can’t be overlooked. Efficient running of business is heavily reliant on a good UPS. The future of power conditioning demands up-to-date approach of power conditioning for data centres.

Features to look out for: UPS systems should save energy, charge battery faster, occupy lesser space, be modular and scalable so as to reduce the initial investment for customers.

Remote management: As SMBs grow they set up branches across locations. They have more sites, which means they have more UPSes, more servers, more and draw more load. This means that there is an evolving need to have remote management systems. If you are in Delhi and your branch in Mumbai goes down, your entire network goes down. Here remote management can help by allowing you to control the network from any remote location, and literally take care of the entire network, control shutdown of network, shutdown of UPS and battery. For remote manageability, a UPS must support SNMP (Single Network Management Protocol), a communications language commonly used in IT and telecom sectors and is installed along with the UPS system.

Low TCO: People should buy products with lower cost of ownership. When buying a UPS, consider not only the cost of the UPS itself, but also the cost of battery, warranty on the battery and UPS, cost of maintenance of battery and UPS and the cost incurred on downtime. During downtime, your customers are not able to work with you, which causes business losses. Therefore you should buy a UPS that provides 100% uptime.

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