Innovate November 2017

What’s That Beeping Under My Desk?

Written By: Michael Remer

An uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, can often be found under your desk connected to your computer equipment. Commonly, it resembles a large power strip, has at least one button and when you lose power, it becomes the most irritating piece of computer equipment you own. But don’t be too hard on that computer saving device, having a UPS can save your computer from devastation. A UPS contains at least one battery and the proper electronics to provide a continuous flow of power at a steady rate for a short time to your computer or other electronics. So how does it save you?

Lights Out

In the event of a power failure, the UPS is designed to keep your computer running long enough to perform a safe shut down. Powering off a computer by just unplugging it, or physically turning it off without using the operating system’s shut down command can result in lost data or a corrupt operating system and either or both of those can result in an unusable computer. A properly connected and configured UPS will have not just a power connection from your computer to it, but a communications connection, typically in the form of a USB cable, as well as installed software that will automatically shut down your computer when you lose power. The software can be configured to shut down the computer immediately, or keep it running as long as possible, shutting down when the battery level reaches a certain percentage.

Lights Out – Sort of

When the lights flicker, fade or get brighter you are experiencing a power condition known as a brown-out or surge. What this means is you are getting too much power or not enough power to your building. In addition to making your office resemble some sort of haunted house, the power condition can damage your computer equipment. A UPS regulates the voltage coming out of it – so if your power dips to 70 percent of the norm it compensates. If it rises to 130 percent, it blocks that excess protecting your equipment.

The Generator Gap 

If your office is lucky enough to have a backup power generator, you’ll know, by testing your system, that making the switch to backup power is often not instant. During that time gap that the generator is started and your power is switched over, there is a complete loss of electricity. Even if this is brief, it is often long enough that there is impact on computer equipment. This can be harmful to your operating system and can impact your productivity if a computer is restarted due to an interruption in power before you get a chance to save any files you may be working on. A UPS will provide continuous power during this transition – meaning the impact of switching over from one power source to another, and then back again, does not negatively impact your computer equipment.

Not Just for Computers

Imagine the impact of these negative power conditions on other equipment in your office. Your networking equipment such as wireless access points, firewalls and routers, servers and other equipment need the same type of power protection, and your office will benefit from it. Servers will be able to be safely shut down in the event of a prolonged power outage, wireless network clients will stay online if there is a short power blip, and with the right equipment installed and setup, your IT provider will automatically be alerted to power conditions and can assist with diagnosing recurring power issues or the safe shutdown of computer and network related equipment.

What Else Should You Worry About?

Uninterruptable Power Supplies contain batteries. These batteries have a life-span and should be replaced according to their manuturer’s guidelines or when indicated by the UPS device itself or the software. There are several UPS models that have a “replace battery” light on them. There are factors that can affect the life of the battery such as surges, low voltage conditions or prolonged power outages so it’s important that you perform periodic testing of your UPS. When you replace your computer, it’s often a good time to either replace the battery in your UPS or replace the unit itself as they often have a finite life-span.

Talk to your IT provider about how a UPS can protect you and your business, and how you should configure and deploy UPS’s in your environment.


MICHAEL REMER is founder and president of ComputerCare LLC, an IT services company providing a full spectrum of IT solutions and services to small and medium businesses.

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