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Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

NOT the men in brown
UPS stands for uninterruptible power supply. A UPS is a battery / inverter combo that will instantly provide power to plugged-in devices in the event of a power anomoly. I say anomoly because a UPS protects you from brown-outs, flickers, sags, surges, AND outages. The power coming into your office isn’t necessarily “clean” but that is where the UPS steps in and cleans it up for you.

But I have a laptop
A laptop, by virtue of its internal battery, essentially has a built-in UPS. There is a difference, however, between a UPS and a laptop battery. A UPS is designed to protect in the event of a power surge or other damaging anomaly. A laptop battery does not offer this same protection. I’m not recommending a UPS for a laptop but I would recommend, at the minimum, a quality surge protector. Hey! Get out of that Wal-Mart bargain bin. A quality surge protectors costs more than 5 bucks! In all seriousness though; a power strip and a surge protector are not the same thing.

Tell me another story, Grandpa
In another life I worked at a company as the network administrator (okay, computer geek). I was very insistent that all computers and network equipment have battery backups. I hand-picked an especially nice, heavy-duty UPS for the main file server. On a fateful Wednesday afternoon, 2 electricians were in the building changing wiring in the main office panel. These 2 electricians managed to cross the server’s dedicated circuit with a 220 volt loop. Needless to say this was very, very bad. Luckily, the UPS did what it was designed to do and sacrificed itself. The server was completely untouched!  A quick swap to another UPS and within 15 minutes the company was back up and running. I did have a few choice words for those electricians though.

Switches and routers and hubs, oh my!
If you are a careful reader you noticed above that I mentioned network equipment having a UPS too. Remember that power issues don’t just affect computers – they affect the entire network. You should plug ALL of your network equipment into a UPS.  This means network switches, routers, hubs, etc.

Battery backup vs surge only
Most UPS’s will have two sets of outlets. One set is labeled Battery Backup, the other set is labeled Surge Only. The battery backup side will power your equipment in the event of a power issue. The surge only side is where you want to plug in other devices that don’t need the battery backup but still need protection. Think printers, calculators, phones, lava lamps, etc.

What about printers?
You can plug inkjet printers into your battery backup if you need to print during a power outage but NEVER, EVER plug laser printers into the battery backup side of a UPS. They will magically transform your UPS into an IPS – an Interruptible Power Supply. This is because a laser printer draws more power than a UPS can provide. An overloaded UPS (because of your laser printer), in a power outage will instantly fail and fill the air with what amounts to a UPS crying – EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE – and there will be a pretty, blinking red light too.

Your UPS is not on Viagra!
The average UPS can only provide power to run your desktop computer and monitor for 5 to 15 minutes. A UPS is going to provide your staff enough time to gracefully shutdown their computer in the event of an extended outage. A UPS is NOT a solution for a long-term power failure (you will have to invest in a generator if that is a concern). But even if you have a generator, you still need a UPS on each desktop computer and all your network equipment.

Mission critical
If you conduct computerized auctions without UPS’s you are asking for problems on auction day. Please, please, please if you don’t have a UPS for every single computer in your office and all your network equipment, don’t let another auction go by without adding this layer of defense.

My preferred brand of UPS is APC which you can purchase from Office Depot, Staples, Sams Club, etc.

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