Are your computers ready to stand the summer storms and the added strain of brownouts, blackouts, surges, and sags?
If you answered “Not Sure” or “No,” you’re certainly not alone. In most offices, unless you have an in-house computer support person, or a similar arrangement with a local consultant, your computer and phone systems may be a lot more vulnerable than you realize.
The hot summer months, with increased power consumption, force utility companies into a 7×24 juggling act. When left unchecked, these utility power fluctuations can really wreak havoc on your PCs and telephones, as well as any other sensitive electronic devices in your office.
1. Make sure every piece of sensitive electronic equipment in your office has some type of surge suppression.
Don’t overlook your data lines. In addition to sneaking in through your electrical outlets, power surges and spikes can go right from telephone and cable TV circuits to your network card or modem, and literally “fry” the innards of your PC. (Yes, we’ve seen this happen many times and it’s not pretty.)
2. Be sure your surge protector has data line protection, or purchase a stand-alone data line surge protector separately. Just as important, make sure you read the included instructions and actually use the data line protection properly.
3. Install battery backup units (UPS) on computers, phone systems, and peripheral devices. While a basic surge suppressor will protect your office equipment from getting “burned” by high-voltage current, invest in a battery backup unit for each of your PCs, file servers, external modems, network hubs/routers/switches, and phone system chassis.
Battery backup units, commonly known as uninterruptible power supplies (UPS units), provide continuous power during brownouts and blackouts, so you can close out any open files that you’re working on and shut down your computer properly.
If you’ve ever heard the horrible screaming sound a person makes when their PC “crashes”, or loses power suddenly, with a half-dozen applications running and hours of not-yet-saved data, you’ll understand why a UPS is mandatory for any office with valuable information on their PC’s hard drives.
UPS units come in a variety of different price ranges. The most important part of selecting a UPS is to make sure it’s “sized” right for your needs. Most of the leading power protection vendors have product selection tools on their web sites to make sure you buy the proper model to fit your hardware, run-time requirements, and budget.
4. Test your battery backup unit and monitor the log files. Test regularly and test often. Most battery backup units, especially the ones meant for servers, include some type of serial or USB interface that connects your UPS unit to your PC. This interface is what allows for advanced functions such as unattended shutdowns of your computer during extended blackouts, scheduled self-testing, as well as the logging of the time, date, duration and magnitude of a power fluctuation.
To get a pulse on just how “good” or “bad” your utility power is, check your UPS software programme’s log files. Even more importantly, make it a point to do a “pull the plug” test a few times a month. This involves literally, pulling the plug from your UPS out of your electrical socket, watching your watch, and making sure your UPS handles like you think it’s “supposed to” during a blackout.
6. Watch out for the Site Wiring Fault light. Most business grade surge suppressors, and nearly all battery backup units, include an LED indicator for site wiring faults.
A site wiring fault usually means that your third wire on the electrical outlet is not properly connected to ground. While this can be a hazard to your hardware and system reliability, it can also be a safety hazard. Never try to force a three pronged surge suppressor or UPS power cord into a two-pronged outlet.
7. Check your interface and software compatibility, before you buy. Finally, if you have PCs or file servers that are left unattended while powered on (generally most offices do), it’s crucial to have automated shutdown capabilities to prevent a “hard crash”, the equivalent to pulling the plug out from your wall outlet while dozens of files are open.
If you’re purchasing a mid-range battery backup unit for your desktop PC or server and you’re planning to use the intelligent serial or USB interface for monitoring and unattended shutdown functions, be sure to do your homework. Make sure you have an available serial or USB port on your PC or server, and that the software is compatible with, and preferably certified for your desired operating system.