I need a UPS – which one is best?

Stability and availability of electricity is a growing problem in South Africa and therefore, an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) has become a vital piece of equipment for businesses of all sizes.

May 13, 2014

By Elrica Quick, APC Product Specialist at DCC

Stability and availability of electricity is a growing problem in South Africa. Therefore, an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) has become a vital piece of equipment for businesses of all sizes, from large enterprise to the Small and Home Office (SOHO). However, while enterprise businesses recognise the need for such equipment, many small businesses do not understand the consequences of not having a UPS in place. In addition, understanding which UPS to purchase can be seen as a challenging task. However, understanding the need for a UPS solution, as well as the needs and requirements of the business, are key to avoiding the pitfalls of power problems and can ease the pains when purchasing a UPS for your business.

When power fails, supply is abruptly cut off to all electronic devices. In the case of servers and computers, this instant cut off can lead to lost and corrupt data. Lost and corrupt data can be crippling to a business to the extent of the business closing. In addition, the effects of surges and spikes can cause damage to the equipment itself, shortening its lifespan and resulting in businesses having to replace equipment.

A UPS helps to mitigate these problems, providing users with a short time frame to close programs and safely shut down computers and servers when a power outage occurs which prevents the corruption and loss of data. UPS solutions with functionality of extended battery packs can also be used to enable businesses to continue working through a power failure, helping to minimise the impact on productivity.

The need for a UPS in all sizes of business is clear. However, many users remain unsure as to which UPS to purchase, due to the wide variety of available solutions. The correct UPS will depend on two main factors. By answering these simple questions, users will be able to identify the specification, size and topology of the UPS required.

  • What is the runtime you require the UPS to run during a power outage?
  • What type of equipment do you want to connect onto the UPS?

The first thing to establish is which equipment you need to connect to the UPS. This will not only help you determine which size of UPS to buy, but also what type of UPS is required. The type of equipment to be connected to the UPS will determine the load that the UPS will have to carry. This will be the combined electricity consumption of all of the equipment. Once this has been calculated, a UPS with an Output Watt Capacity of 20-25% higher than the total load should be chosen. This will assist in catering for future growth, optimum running of the UPS and ensuring the UPS does not need to be replaced every time new equipment is purchased.

It is also important to determine the duration for which the UPS is needed to support the connected equipment/load – how long do you need to be able to run equipment off the UPS? Do you require the UPS for protecting equipment, closing of programs and shutting down of computer equipment, or for surge protection and additional backup or runtime? The longer the runtime required, the more external battery packs will be required.

UPS solutions also come in a variety of topologies and sizes, so it is important to consider the key features of the UPS. Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR) and power conditioning help to ensure the supply of power is consistently clean and stable smoothing out dips and spikes. Automatic self-test functionality periodically checks the efficiency of the battery and provides notification when the battery is nearing the end of its lifespan. Predictive failure notifications will alert users if the UPS is going to fail. These features help to ensure the UPS does not stop working without the user being aware of it.

Certain UPS solutions have status indicators to enhance ease of use, and have user-replaceable batteries, amongst other features. It is important to examine the features offered and map these to the needs of your business. For enhanced functionality, certain UPSs are capable of allowing for the inclusion of a network management card. This enables users to manage and monitor one or multiple UPSs solutions through the Local Area Network (LAN) / Wide Area Network (WAN). In addition, certain UPS solutions feature auto shut down software, this software will automatically shut down your equipment safely, easing the user having to be at the equipment to shut it down.

In light of the various features, sizes, topologies and functionalities of a UPS, selecting the right one can be a challenging task. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, and speaking to an expert on power solutions can be beneficial, particularly for organisations that are new to the concept of a UPS. In addition, specific technical expertise is required to install a UPS, depending on the size of the unit. Units up to a 3 Kilovolt Amps (kVA) can be plugged into a normal 15Amp wall socket and do not require installation by a qualified electrician. However, a qualified electrician will be required for units greater than 3kVA and will need to be connected directly to a Distribution Board (DB). Three-phase UPSs used in larger organisations will require specialised technicians to commission and start-up of the UPS. Expert assistance can prove incredibly helpful in many instances.

UPS solutions are vital for any business today. Unfortunately, many businesses only realise the need for such a solution once damage has already been done, by which time it is often too late. UPS solutions are typically a grudge purchase, however, the cost of such a solution is far less than the cost of continually replacing damaged equipment and lost productivity. In addition, a UPS can help to reduce the headaches that come with insurance claims. UPS systems offer many benefits, and choosing the right one to meet business needs will ensure that full value can be leveraged from a small investment.