The silent electronic equipment killer

By Robert Brandt, APC Product Specialist at Drive Control Corporation

The problems of South Africa’s national power utility are well known, however in the last year or so many organisations have been lulled into a false sense of security as load shedding and rolling blackouts are no longer publicised and thus seem to be a thing of the past.

While most people know of the dangers of blackouts to electronic and IT equipment, there is in fact a silent killer that often goes unnoticed and unheeded. Brownouts, or temporary reductions in the voltage of power supply, are equally dangerous and can wreak havoc on computers, servers and other equipment if measures are not taken to protect environments from this event.

Brownouts also known as undervoltage can be caused by natural phenomena, such as storms, which disrupt the power grid. They can also occur as a result of an overload on the electrical system when the power utility is unable to provide enough power to meet demand. Voltage reductions such as this may be incidental or may actually be conducted deliberately to serve a similar purpose to blackouts when demand is high.

When power voltage dips, people may not even notice or may experience it as a dimming of lights. However the underlying damage caused by these occurrences is often not apparent to the end user. While a brownout may not ‘fry’ equipment the way a total blackout does, most technology requires a constant supply of clean, uninterrupted power in order to function optimally, and brownouts force equipment to work harder on less power, which can severely reduce its lifespan.

For example, computer processes take strain in brownouts, which can cause overheating and resultant failure. They can also cause keyboards to fail and machines to freeze or crash, leading to lost or corrupted data, and computer disk drives can suffer from write failures. Electrical interference also increases during brownouts, which can adversely affect the operation of computers, wireless networks and other IT infrastructure.

All of this can lead not only to the premature failure of expensive equipment and the logistical hassle of having lost or corrupt data; it can also have a significant negative impact on productivity. In combination these instances add up to increased expense, lost revenue and at the end of the day a shrinking bottom line.

In a country that experiences a large number of electric storms, and also has a power utility with as many problems as South Africa does, it is imperative to proactively address issues such as brownouts in order to minimise future implications.

One solution is to turn off all sensitive equipment during brownouts.

However this is often not feasible as organisations cannot tolerate the downtime this would cause, and often it is brownouts are difficult to detect. This means that for most businesses it is necessary to implement a technology solution to deal with the problem.

The simplest solution to ease the trouble of brownouts is to make sure that all power points have power filters or power protectors on them. These are designed to cut the irregular power supply before it can damage equipment.

Power filters are easy and relatively cheap to install. They self sacrificing, and will be destroyed before equipment is in the event of a power surge or power sag, saving expensive equipment from failure.

Voltage regulators, power conditioners and isolation transformers can also assist in keeping the power supply clean and steady and ensuring that expensive equipment is not affected by brownouts. In addition, a UPS with a power filter can provide backup power when the main power fails, allowing time for proper shutdown procedures to be implemented. Most UPS systems will also regulate the power from the wall as a result, eliminating power sags and minimising the effect of brownouts on expensive equipment.

Brownouts have the potential to cause massive disruptions to business and damage millions of Rands worth of expensive electronic and computer equipment in South Africa as a result of unclean and unsteady power supply.

Once a brownout is happening it is too late to do anything about it, so a proactive strategy is needed to protect equipment from this silent killer.

Specialists in the field of power supply and regulation can assist your organisation to outline the best strategy and solution to suit your needs and ensure that business is up and running at all times, business as usual.

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The silent electronic equipment killer