The Lowdown on Uptime: Why You Need an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS)

by Reads (3,924)

by Paul Korzeniowski

Power on your computer – drives start humming; the screen starts blinking. Wonderful, isn’t it? That scene can change in a split second, however: after a blip in the electrical current, the screen freezes, drives crash, the lights go dim, and the foul language begins. 

So, what causes such problems and how can you protect yourself from such a calamity? First, education is needed. “Most users have only limited knowledge about how electrical currents impact their desktop systems,” said Mark Kaloudis, Senior Product Manager for Critical Power and Cooling Services at American Power Conversion (APC) Corp. Consumers usually focus on major issues, such as blackouts or lightening strikes, when in reality, electrical problems are much less obtrusive and much more common.  The impact of these innocuous interruptions is not a downed or destroyed system but instead smaller, more insidious difficulties, like random system interrupts and early component failures.

UPS

To keep the juice flowing to desktop systems, vendors, such as APC, CyberPower Systems Inc., Eaton Corp., Emerson Network Power, GE Digital Energy, Socomec Group, and Tripp Lite, developed a wide — and ever growing — array of products. These solutions come with a broad price range (from about $10 to a few thousand dollars) and offer a series of capabilities from delivering a few minutes to several hours of spare electricity and minimal to extensive reporting functions. Given the breadth of the options, chances are one will fit your needs — as well as your budget.

Power? Or malware?
Mention power troubles, and individuals envision BIG problems: brown outs, blackouts, lightening, and fire. However, most energy problems are hard to detect.  “When a computer freezes or and slows down, most users think malware or maybe a faulty software is the source, however, an energy issue may have actually caused the problem,” noted APC’s Kaloudis. 

The reality is electric charges fluctuate as soon as you turn on your computer. These currents traverse hundreds of miles, and blips arise in a variety of ways. Other devices can be turned off or on creating changes in the energy flow. Currents can misfire as they traverse from switching point to the next.

Changes in electrical currents create a number of nuisances. The system may freeze for a moment or two, which is disturbing if one is in the middle of an epic World of Warcraft battle. “Energy fluctuations drain and sometimes damage internal desktop components, such as motherboards and disk drives,” explained Rich Feldhaus, product manager at Tripp Lite. If there is a significant charge, data can be lost, components can be fried, and in worst case scenarios, fires are sparked.

The easiest way
The simplest way to protect against such problems is with a surge protector. On the low end, these devices come in strips with multiple outlets, cost about $10, and protect users against minor fluctuations.

The level of sophistication quickly rises, and these systems come with many differentiating features. Desktop systems often rely on more than standard electric sockets. Electricity is needed with items, such as Ethernet connections and Internet Service Provider (ISP) links. Typically, these other connections include their own power sources, but here again, energy delivery can vacillate and create aggravation. Consequently, surge protection systems, such as APC’s Home/Office SurgeArrest P8T3 and Belkin Inc.’s Concealed Surge Protector BZ111234-10, support connections to both data circuits as well as standard electrical outlets.

Backup power is the next step in the protecting a desktop system. Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS) systems include battery backup systems that kick into gear once the power goes down, so users can continue to work (or play) during a glitch. Here, the UPS is placed between the desktop system and the power socket. As electricity flows from the socket through the UPS to the computer, the battery system continuously monitors power levels. Whenever the electricity flow falls below normal parameters, the UPS compensates for the lack of power by firing up its battery. Once the power flow has been restored, the UPS will return to its observation mode.



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