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Protect your gear: can you cost-justify a UPS?



A power surge or outage can wreak havoc on sensitive equipment such as computer, telecommunication and other microprocessor-based systems.

The results are damaged equipment, lengthy downtime, lost data and lowered productivity.

Today's on-line uniterruptible power systems (UPSs) defend against power fluctuations and keep power mishaps from turning into catastrophes.

A recent IBM survey tallied the average number of power line disturbances per month. Transients occurred 62.6 times, spikes 50.7 times, voltage fluctuations 14.4 times and outages 0.6 times.

Just a quarter cycle of interrupted power can affect enough data on a computer to corrupt, damage or destroy files and require extensive reprogramming or file rebuilding.

As telecomm managers seek to protect critical equipment from brownouts, blackouts and power fluctuations, it is not surprising that they turn to UPSs.

Designed to filter and regulate incoming power, UPSs control and monitor power to critical equipment, guarding it from fluctuations that could damage components or mangle data.

Facilities in the Northeast and near major cities are seeing more power related problems than ever. Other studies show an increase in potentially damaging power disturbances caused by weather conditions and problems at utilities.

What To Protect

When considering a UPS, managers must determine what equipment they need to protect.

All critical microprocessor-based equipment should be backed up by a UPS. In addition to mainframes and minicomputers, this can include personal computers, local area networks, word processor, computer-aided design systems, and telecommunications systems.

Non-microprocessor-based equipment such as lighting, air conditioners, elevators, pencil sharpeners and coffee makers, in not as sensitive to power disturbance. If you need backup for this equipment, a generator rather than a UPS will suffice.

A good gauge for justification of a UPS is whether the potential cost of damage caused by a power fluctuation is more than the cost of a UPS.

Although PCs can be protected by a UPS, the potential hardware damage and replacement of a PC is less than the cost of a UPS (assuming valuable data is regularly backed up), so an investment in a UPS is not justified.

For example, if $2000 worth of data entry time is lost a year as a result of power problems on an HP3000, then some other approach is better justified, such as a surge suppressor or power conditioner.

But if you could lose tens of thousands of dollars worth of labor and parts if a telecommunications system is damaged, a UPS makes the most sense.

Equipment Differences

More than 90% of UPS systems sold today protect critical computer-based equipment. A UPS can also protect non-microprocessor equipment such as lighting and air conditioning, but not as cost-efficiently as a generator.

Surge protectors and power conditioners, which battle high voltage or low energy noise, are best for protecting systems such as PCs that are not used for applications vital to the continued operation of a company.

They cannot, however, protect microprocessor-based equipment from significant power fluctuations or failures.

Additionally, surge protectors and power conditioners do not have backup batteries, so they provide no protection in blackouts or brownouts. They also do not allow a computer system to be manually shut down to prevent lost data.

Most large facilities and plants employ generators effectively to back up non-microprocessing equipment. Generators can provide power for microprocessing equipment, but because they produce raw, unregulated power, a UPS must be used to filter a generator's power and to operate during the time it takes to start a generator after a power failure.

The UPS should continue to regulate generator power to the critical equipment especially during the first several minutes, when the generator canproduce power of unstable voltage and frequency.

New UPS Technologies

Technologies that revolutionized computer designs have also brought more reliable, powerful UPSs.

With the advent of pulse-width modulated (PWM) technology, UPSs can offer higher efficiency and better operation. A PWM design is based on a rectifier/charger which converts utility power into DC voltage.

The DC power is applied to the UPS's battery to keep it charged, and to an inverter which converts the DC power back into a clean, continuous supply of AC power.

Today's UPS technologies have brought better line conditioning, lower output impedance and increased reliability.

Battery Backup

The amount of battery backup necessary with a UPS depends on the applications of the system and what it is protecting.

Typically, 15 to 30 minutes of backup allows the dependent system to be taken down safely without damage. This does not necessarily include time for a total backup of files, which usually is not necessary.

If more than 30 minutes is needed, or continuous critical operation is important, additional battery power or an auxiliary generator used in conjunction with the UPS may be the best solution.

If the equipment covered by the UPS must function for an extended period of time, backup power (usually in the form of an auxiliary generator) for air conditioning must be considerred. This is to maintain the vital equipment's required operating temperature.

Monitoring Systems

When selecting a UPS, it is important to consider a monitoring system which signals dangers such as a power overload and helps head off potentially disastrous problems.

There are several ways a UPS monitoring system can be tied into a building's monitoring and security systems.

Because computer rooms are often unattended, remote alarms in two or three locations can be installed. For example, warning lights or alarms can be wired into a data processing manager's office or a security station for 24 hour monitoring.

UPS warnings can also be communicated through remote dry contacts or RS232 ports available on some of the more sophisticated UPSs.

Many UPSs today have self diagnostics built into their monitoring system which are similar to those used by computers, and some larger UPSs contain computers to monitor and pinpoint malfunctions.

Remote Emergency Power Off (REPO) is an option on many new UPSs, to control or eliminate electrical fire damage by allowing the user to instantly shut off the power to a UPS and its dependent load.

A Halon fire protection system is often used in conjunction with REPO to further eliminate the risk of an electrical fire spreading through computer systems.

As computer installation regulations become more strict, REPO is becoming mandatory in many situations.

Continuous operation of some electronically stored information and computer systems is so critical that multiple UPSs and a generator may be needed to assure users that systems will not fail due to a power disturbance.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:uninterruptible power supply
Author:Connell, Susan
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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