The importance of a UPS for the SoHo and SME market

Unstable power is an unfortunate reality of doing business in South Africa and aside from causing lost productivity, these power issues can also damage sensitive Information Technology (IT) equipment.

May 13, 2013

By Elrica Quick, APC Specialist at Drive Control Corporation

Unstable power, power cuts and voltage fluctuations are an unfortunate reality of doing business in South Africa and aside from causing lost productivity, these power issues can also damage sensitive Information Technology (IT) equipment such as – PCs and servers, costing the Small Office Home Office (SoHo) and Small Medium Enterprise (SME) markets even more money. Specialised equipment is necessary to not only protect IT equipment, but to allow businesses to continue running through power outages.

However, many people are unsure of whether they need an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) or a generator – or even both. This confusion results in businesses often choosing the wrong device, which can prove to be a costly mistake. A UPS and a generator each has its place, but they are designed for distinct uses, and ensuring you have the right equipment to suit your needs will result in minimum disruption and maximum productivity no matter what the power situation.

A generator’s main function is to supply power to various electrical equipment and components and this unit will power equipment for extended periods of time. This equipment is vital for organisations that experience severe power outages and need to continue running for many hours without power. A UPS on the other hand is a power conditioning unit, which is designed to protect equipment from power spikes and dips. The UPS also allows for a safe shutdown of IT equipment to be performed in the event of a power failure – in other words giving people enough time to turn off their equipment correctly to ensure data is not lost and equipment is not damaged.

The confusion comes in where UPS devices with external battery packs are involved. External battery packs on a UPS allow the UPS to run IT equipment for longer periods of time and smaller organisations sometimes use these instead of a generator. A UPS is not designed to run 24/7 and the additional time provided should not be excessive on a daily basis. If you use your UPS on a daily basis as a back-up device to run your IT equipment, it is recommended to allow this to run for 2-4 hours only. Running a UPS with extended battery packs for long periods of time can shorten the lifespan of the device and its batteries and even cause the device to fail at a critical junction.

Another key point to note is that the battery packs on a UPS are fairly expensive equipment, so running a UPS with eight hours of battery life, for example, may prove far more expensive than simply purchasing a generator. These batteries then need to be recharged once power resumes, which may not happen efficiently if the power is highly unstable, shortening the available running time of the UPS. A generator on the other hand will be available to run equipment for any length of time required with fuel. A UPS should then be used in conjunction with the generator to condition the power.

Ultimately the best solution to power problems is to evaluate the needs of the organisation and then make an informed decision on what equipment is required. If the business only needs to ensure clean power and time to shut down in case of an outage, a regular UPS device is ideal. If the business requires an hour or two of run time for short durations or occasional power failures, a UPS with a battery pack will be sufficient.

However, if the organisation requires extended run time regularly to see them productively through lengthy power outages, then a UPS and a generator in combination are the ideal solution. Given the South African power context, where power outages can be experienced for many hours, even days, a UPS and generator combination are necessary to protect expensive IT equipment and ensure that businesses do not experience crippling disruptions which could negatively impact their bottom line.