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  March 2007 Newsletter

UPS - Uninterruptible Power Supply

Belkin UPS
What is UPS?

We have all at some point asked, "What is UPS?". For some, we still are wondering just what UPS is and why anyone should need it. Well, in short it is an acronym which stands for "Uninterruptible Power Supply". Just as the term implies, it means that whatever is plugged into this device, the power will not be interrupted (time varies according the UPS at hand). Although, an UPS can be used for many things, here we are concerned about its use with our computers.

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Understanding Battery Backup

Over time, I am convinced that if you don't have a battery backup on your PC or electronic equipment, you are flirting with component failure. Why you ask? To answer that, it is important to first understand what battery backup is in the first place. A good example that most people can relate to is alarm clocks. Personally, I don't use one, but if you do, you know that if your power goes out your alarm clock quits working. But does it? If it is a short outage that occurs in milliseconds, the clock may not turn off or reset at all. But what if it is longer, say 5 minutes? Unless you have a battery in the clock (such as a 9 volt) or the clock has a built in battery, your clock would quit working or reset to 12:00 when the power comes back on, and you will probably be late. Another likely place for battery backup in our home or office is smoke detectors. In my home, I have the detectors wired to the 110 Volt power supply in the home. However, should the power fail, these detectors will continue to work as they too have battery backup (a 9 volt battery). So, as you can see, battery backup keeps these devices running in the event of a power failure. Back to the first remark I made, "...flirting with component failure". An UPS not only backs up your PC in the event of a power failure, but also "cleans and regulates" the power coming in and it also offers surge protection (see the belkin demo, linked at the end of this newsletter). PC's are vulnerable to spikes and dips in power supplied to it, therefore a battery backup offers a layer of security in component protection.

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Networking and Computers

Let's now talk about how battery backup is used everyday in the computing and networking industry. For many, the computer is our link to the outside world. We check our email, maybe chat with our friends or seek romance (yikes), educate ourselves or use it mainly for entertainment (such as online gaming). Without the Internet none of this would be possible. The Internet really is nothing more then a bunch of routers, switches and servers interconnected in a vast network that spans the globe. Imagine if any of these "nodes" were to lose power. Unless redundancy were built into this network in some way, communication would come to a halt. As an example, I have been in many data centers due to my work and UPS is a critical part of any data center. Imagine the nightmare that would ensue if their power went out and it was not backed up by an UPS system!

Now on to your computer. In this vast and complex system of routers/hubs, switches, servers and computers lies your own computer. This for you is your interface to the Internet through your dialup/cable/dsl modem and it is the start of this huge complex network. Some of you also have your own routers and switches or hubs in addition to your own computers. Yet, for many (and I include sadly businesses), battery backup is not even considered. Or if it is, "I will get to it someday". So, in the next section I will hopefully convince you why it is that you should also have your equipment on battery backup.

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The Advantages of UPS

While much is written on the advantages of having an UPS for your computer, I can't think of any disadvantages of owning one. Think about that for a minute. Almost everything I can think of has it's disadvantages and advantages. Not an UPS. It can be literally a life saver! So, here is my list of advantages and why you should get a battery backup if you don't already own one:

  • Computer continues to run, even during a power failure.
  • AVR - Automatic Voltage Regulation. Regulates the power coming in, smooths out the peaks and valleys.
  • During a power outage, protects my system from a power surge when the power comes back on.
  • Extends the life of my computer and monitor.
  • Network stays up, even during a power outage. (provided network equipment is on an UPS of course)
  • If I am working on something when the power goes out, I won't loose my work.
  • Saves me time and frustration. Do not have to deal with unexpected power on cycling.
  • Prevents data loss or unexpected hard drive failures. This is HUGE!
  • Can prevent an Operating System failure!
  • UPS protection!
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Stories of power failures abound. As a matter of fact, I am willing to bet that many of you have a story to tell! Anyway, it is those personal experiences that motivate us to take action. Or do we? On a personal note, this past week we had a brown out here in Warsaw, Ohio where I live. At the time, I was doing hard drive maintenance on my own PC that I use for business. I was running a program called SpinRite on my hard drive. Although I probably would have been O.K. without a battery backup, it was nice to know that because I did have an UPS, I was not concerned about there being ill effects from a power interruption. If you don't have a battery backup and you are doing hard drive maintenance (such as Scandisk/Chkdsk), you risk having a serious problem if the power is interrupted! And if you are updating the BIOS for your system and you lose power and don't have battery backup, your likely to end up with one major headache (a new use for your desktop tower...a door stop).

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What to Buy?

I am asked this question frequently when the topic changes to battery backups for PC's. I actually have a simple answer and that is buy what you can afford and overkill is not necessary.APC 350VA If for example you are buying an UPS for your network equipment, you do not need anything greater then a 350VA power supply (home users) since this equipment is generally not power hungry. On the otherhand, for a modern PC and monitor, you normally would want a 550VA or greater. APC has a great site for helping you choose the right UPS for your own situation. WalMart also carries UPS and can be purchased online. Type "UPS" in the search box and you will see that they offer more online then if you go to a local store. Tripp-Lite is another product used by many businesses and is reliable. Another source is APC, which I mentioned earlier. If you are still confused and not sure what to do, I would be more then happy to help you through the process.

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Further reading and links

Below you will find links to items mentioned in this newsletter, as well as further reading into the topic of UPS.

That concludes this newsletter and I hope you learned something! Thanks for your time...

Lawrence Hettinger

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