Wednesday, February 27, 2008

UPS - Uninterruptible Power Supply

This will be brief, belying the importance of the subject. Perhaps I can return to this entry---later--someday---with more nuanced reportage.

1) What is it?
2) What does it do?
3) Do you need one?

1) The colloquial term for this device is "Battery Backup." That's good enough for me. It's a box containing a battery and sporting several standard electrical outlets, a USB port (desirable) and typically two ports for Ethernet cables.

2) The device provides two or three services. A) the internal battery provides instantaneous power to a computer system when the building electrical power fails. B) the outlets provide electrical surge protection in the event of a power surge. C) the circuitry tells an attached computer to shutdown gracefully.

3) Maybe yes, maybe no. The factors influencing such a decision include: a) how often does the power go down as a blackout, or go fluctuating into a brownout (voltage drop) at your home office? Secondly, how important is your data? These are judgment calls, with users on both extremes, of not needing a UPS ever, and those who should not work without one.

Calculating the UPS "size" or output is beyond the scope of this note. I've had new clients carry the concept that a UPS will run their home office for eight hours on battery backup! No. The intended purpose of a home office UPS is to provide 10 to 20 minutes of battery power to tide one over during a "brief" outage, not to run your entire office for a day. Definitely not for running a laser printer on battery power! Take note. The home office UPS devices are for gracefully exiting from a power emergency, thus preventing data loss caused by a suddenly crashing computer. That's all; nothing more; and yet it's hard to convey that this means a lot.

Power go, OUT! Computer go, BOOM! Data go, POOF!
You call me. I express no sympathy. Sorry. YCINMC Your Crisis, Is Not My Crisis; call your therapist.....PLEASE NOTE: I am not a computer nanny. The purpose of technology consulting is not to pick up the shattered pieces of your failed DATA SYSTEM. That is the job of a "computer repairman" ---of which I am not (although I can often be seen fixing computers). My job is to work with you intelligently anticipating the real world of OOPS!

When you do experience a cosmic OOPS!, I will be there for you, because we worked intelligently to anticipate the inevitable. If you use a computer, I can guarantee that sometime, someday, somewhere, when least expected, you will (not maybe) experience a FAILED DATA SYSTEM. How do I know this, so cock-sure? Am I only trying to sell you more junk that you don't need? ---I have lost data. My son has lost data. My clients have lost data. I get calls (which I usually turn away) from frantic people who lost data, and all the statistical research on the subject says so.

&&& One tip I can offer now is that if you are using an NAS (see The Box is Coming, The Box is Coming!) you should have one of these, Period. Even if you don't have "frequent" power outages. An NAS is a full-time network file server. If your power goes out only once, while you own an NAS, you could conceivably lose all your data---forever. This is indeed "unlikely," but just as you wouldn't think of not having fire insurance on your home office, you would do well to have power-failure insurance, also. All it takes is one bad day down at the local PG&E substation, or some mylar balloons (from that innocent birthday party?) landing on a utility pole in your neighborhood, with your power lines on it, to make your face grow pale.

Are you only intent on getting me to throw even more money at my computer system? When do you not need a UPS?

-- If you have data backed-up on external, disconnected drives. and you don't mind losing some data (since the last backup) and you don't mind a few hours, or days, of down-time while your computer system is rebuilt--you don't "need" a UPS. With data stored on external drives that are not connected full-time to your computer system, that is a reasonably safe scenario. Discussing data backup itself, is beyond the scope of this article and can be found in the FixMacs AppleBlog archives.

Collecting data is unimaginably easy. Losing it forever is even easier.

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