IT Outsourced  

Is no UPS actually an oops?

UPS’s (Uninterruptable Power Supply) are designed to keep your computer running during a power outage, and also provide a cleaner level of power to your electronic equipment. These can range from about $100 and up depending on the features and application. Several years ago, I was talking with a person new to the Okanagan and he asked if the power always failed this often. I guess in the lower mainland they have a better infrastructure and power failures are less frequent. I think we have grown used to it but there are some things you need to be aware of.

UPS’s provide protection during power outages. Often you can continue to work for a short period of time, and shut down your computer in a normal fashion if the outage is longer than the battery life of your UPS. UPS’s are designed to provide a certain level of wattage and the biggest problem I see is people overloading their UPS. A standard computer and monitor will run for about 5 min on a entry level UPS. Printers draw a considerable amount of power and should never be plugged into a UPS, or at least not a base model.

Some UPS’s have special plugs that do not provide short term power, but do provide surge protection. Lightning strikes can cause massive surges, but even things like turning on lights and equipment can generate a surge or spike.

Advanced models can also provide power conditioning, meaning the power that comes to the equipment is more consistent and will greatly extend the life of the device. The most expensive UPS’s actually provide full time power to the electronics continuously and are recharging at the same time if power is available.

UPS’s are critical I will not setup a server without one, but are they a cost effective solution for most businesses at the desktop level? Let’s look at a typical setup. Say you have 4 computers in the office, and you buy decent quality equipment for about $900. Many years ago, A friend of mine in the telephone industry said a PBX system in the Okanagan would last about 7-8 years without a UPS and 10-12 years with one. For arguments sake, I’m going to say a UPS extends the life of electronic equipment by 33%.

4 Computer Office:

No UPS 12 3 $3600 $14,400
UPS 12 4 $3600 $10,800
UPS Costs 12 3 $  500 $  2,000
Estimated Savings over 12 years       $  1,600

...or better put, about $30 per year per computer.

If you do the calculation for 4 year expected life without a UPS and 5 years with a UPS, the cost savings are almost zero. People will keep their computers longer than 3 years, and in fact it’s usually a productivity issue that prompts replacement before failure. One cost I cannot calculate is the cost of lost productivity when the power goes down. Some programs like Microsoft Word will actually create a backup while you are working that you can use to recover a document if the power was to fail. My recommendation is to have a UPS on each computer, but it’s not a recommendation I find customers are likely to follow and realistically it’s the productively costs that are the only real factor in using them for workstations. Servers and all your centralized network equipment (routers, switches, etc) should always be protected, as these failures can take days to repair, and affect all users.

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About the Author

Mark Smed started as a self-employed consultant, integrating computers into small business in 1989.  The range of work expanded into installing networks and consulting with businesses on the fast paced changes in technology.  As his career progressed he taught Network Administration at a small business college and continued to build his base of clients. 

Today, Mark works for Northern Computer Inc. (http://www.northerncomputer.ca) as a consultant, specialist and technician.  His client base continues to grow and many of his clients have worked with him for over 10 years now.  In 2001, Mark joined the Network Professional Association (http://www.npa.org) and now sits on the board of directors and is responsible for publishing the Network Professional Journal for the association.

Mark can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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