What To Do When The Power Shuts Down

Uninterruptable Power Supplies (Battery backups) are an added expense, and they are only needed when the power goes out. But what if the power goes out when you need your network the most?

Most small business server rooms have at least one UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply). Of course the intent of a UPS is to provide power to the servers, switches and internet connections in case of a power failure. The UPS also helps to regulate power and keep it clean from surges, spike, sags and brownouts. The more servers and network equipment you have, the more UPS units you will probably find in the server room.

We find that in most small business with only one or two servers, the UPS usually provides just a few moments of battery power to allow you to shut down the servers gracefully when the power fails. Some UPS units can be programmed to automatically shut equipment down in case of an extended outage or incase the power goes off at night. Without spending an arm and a leg and with careful calculations, you can purchase enough UPS juice to power your server room for several hours.

If you really need it and can afford it, you can buy UPS units for larger server rooms that will power your equipment for several or eight hours. Most UPS batteries have to be replaced every few years so be sure to budget for that. If your servers are really mission-critical, you can invest in a diesel generator. Of course companies like Ford, Nissan, and Allison Transmission have that kind of power, and it is a major investment and expense.

However, one smaller company I worked with had sub-offices/plants in two different states that depended on a data system in Charleston. A $15000 investment was paid for that first time the power went down during a spring thunderstorm. Power in Charleston was down for seven hours but the other two plants never lost a beat. This company had five small servers. With one or two servers the cost would be under $7000.

Educate management on UPS expectations

When I joined this company, I happened to come on board at a time when there was some construction going on down the street. One of our neighbors required more power than the city could provide so they were adding additional capacity in the underground conduits. It seems like we were experiencing power outages every few days. Most would last only a few moments so the servers never shut down.

One day, the power went out unexpectedly. The outage lasted longer than our batteries could provide the needed power for the servers and they began to shut down. Our phone system is located in the server room and is also plugged into the UPS units. When the batteries were exhausted, we lost our phone service too. Then I had to explain to the President of the company why phone system stopped working.

I tried to explain that the batteries had run down but he acted like that was the first time he had heard that such a thing could happen. “You mean they aren’t supposed to last for more than an hour?” I replied in the affirmative and watched his face turn red. We’ve got to do something to get the phones back online now! "I told him I had nothing to offer and reminded him of my proposal for a larger UPS.

Summary and conclusion

Did the boss agree to spring for the UPS after this little episode? Yes! and boy was I on the hook! Every meeting for several weeks he brought up the expense of the UPS until that one thunderstorm hit that took the power out for the entire day. Keeping those other two plants up and keeping the phone system running during that one outage paid for the new UPS. Now the UPS has been written into the company sales script, talking about our modern network system with eight hours of redundant reserve power translating into no missed shipments or phone calls due to Charleston thunderstorms.

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