What do you do when the lights go out?

What do you do when the lights go out?

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UPS Systems For Businesses and Professionals

With over 400,000 sites suddenly without power last week from the Gold Coast to Caboolture, the answer to the question ‘what do you do when the lights go out’ became abundantly relevant and clear for many businesses.

It is a great time to think about what you did when you last lost power in the middle of a workday. A more significant question is, what can you do when the lights go out to minimise the impact?

The answer will likely lie in taking advantage of a UPS – Uninterruptable Power Supply. With the right planning and systems in place, you can minimise the negative consequences to your business.

The Unprepared Approach

If you have not given thought to these questions before, your answer to ”What did you do when the power went out?” is likely to be expressed through frustration and helplessness:

  1. Express shock.
  2. See if neighbours are affected.
  3. Seek answers.
  4. Realise your business is now at the mercy of the power supply companies.
  5. And when the power is returned, assess the ramifications, assess what was lost, play catch up, replace any damaged equipment, and count the loss of productivity.

Common Losses During an Outage

During a power outage, the effects can be many:

  • Loss of any unsaved local work (if you utilise cloud-based software, storage and solutions, loss of work right up until when the power goes off can be minimised).
  • Inability to continue work, or restricted ability to continue work, without power (i.e., desktop, email and file server access, and system use loss).
  • Potential damage to equipment.
  • If phone systems are in line with current technology, loss of the ability to call or receive calls from clients or customers.
  • Loss of power to payment systems (like EFTPOS), invoicing systems, computers, phone systems, internet routers and more.
  • Uncertainty of when systems will be back up – inability to plan.
  • Loss of productivity.

What is a UPS and how can it help?

A UPS is an Uninterruptible Power Supply. In the basic sense, a UPS is a back-up power supply that engages for temporary use to allow you to complete tasks or shut-downs with some warning.

Most UPS systems can provide power from 15 minutes to a couple of hours. The minimum recommended time for a UPS to provide power, for most businesses, is 15-30 minutes.

In the simplest sense, a UPS buys you time to minimise the negative impact of a sudden power loss. This could mean saving the work you have done, accessing files you can work on, or contacting stakeholders, clients or customers who need to know you will be offline.

UPSs can protect your equipment from getting damaged from power outages. Certain types of UPS systems can also monitor power quality and power supply levels so you can identify when crucial equipment is experiencing less than ideal power quality.

Types of Uninterruptible Power Supply

For most businesses, there are two main types of UPS that can help; offline and online UPS.

  • Offline UPS: This kicks in after power is lost to help you to quickly protect against loss e.g., saving and closing files, and powering off machines safely.
  • Online UPS: This is always ‘online’, always protecting your equipment and constantly monitoring the quality of the power supply. For equipment that is crucial to stay powered, online UPS is a good solution to monitor the quality of the power and be alerted when issues with the power arise.

What type of UPS do I need?

Your UPS requirements come from reverse engineering your most crucial operation requirements. The important question to ask is, what do I need to be able to do ‘when the lights go out’ to protect my business.

The rest depends on the business itself. For those who work from home, it may be keeping your internet connection and computer running.

For those who work on-site, it could be anything from saving work and protecting equipment, to keeping emails and phones up, to gathering the information and resources you need to continue work unplugged and offline for the indeterminate future.

For some businesses with critical equipment, a UPS can help protect against product loss; for example, a butcher with thousands of dollars of meat in their fridges may use an online UPS to monitor the power supply quality to their meat fridges. This kind of UPS would constantly track the quality of the power supply, allowing the business to be alerted when the power fails and sustaining the power long enough to ensure the backup power generator is working properly.

Consider the implications if any business within the health care industry did not have their UPS strategy in order – doctors, hospitals, dentists, radiologists. The consequences could be fatal.

How much does a UPS cost?

This depends on what the UPS is required to do, but the requirements of what the UPS is required for should be the key influence in the decision-making process.

Features like how long the backup power needs to last for, what items need to remain powered, and what the usage will be like need thought and planning. Technical advice is highly recommended before proceeding with an option to ensure the UPS does what you need it to do. A UPS that should last 30 minutes to power a computer with a standard monitor plugged in can be reduced to three minutes if additional non-checked items are also plugged in such as fans, heaters, mobile phone charges and so on.

Can anyone buy a UPS and get started?

The short answer is yes. However, whether that will be effective really does depend on the requirements and the usage. It is important to get the right solution for your individual needs. For this reason, it is recommended to talk to a technical professional about the requirements. They can help you answer questions that you may not already have answers for, such as:

  • If the specs are to supply power for up to 30 minutes, what kind of usage would be supported for those 30 minutes?
  • What happens when something is plugged into that unit? Does that unit offer a display feature to tell you how long of that backup power is left?
  • How does a UPS “store” its power? What energy overheads are required to power the UPS?
  • Are there additional features or functions, such as an app that alerts the owner when it has been activated, or that a problem exists?

How to know what specs you need?

As a basis, the most common ‘crucial elements’ for a UPS to protect are power supplies to:

  • Desktops and monitors
  • Laptop and phone battery chargers (for those situations that your laptop and phone are low on battery during an outage)
  • Phone systems if activated via power
  • Invoicing systems and payment systems.
  • Internet connection hardware
  • Power quality monitoring for crucial equipment

Defining these requirements forms the basis of your power outage plan, ensuring the solution you choose is the best one for you.

In addition, there are additional features to look out for in a UPS such as:

Key features to consider

  • Can the UPS or power supply it provides be monitored (e.g., providing estimates for remaining up time)?
  • Can it generate or send a power quality report, for example, an alarm or security company for alarm or security systems)?
  • Is there a display for critical information such as a countdown timer for remaining power, or visual confirmation that an online UPS is active?

The capabilities are vast

The capabilities of your UPS are determined by what is important to the business, and how much you are willing to invest. Getting into the more technical side of things, larger units can use external connectors for batteries to extend the life of UPS units, something we have helped clients within the past. The limits are on what a business is willing to invest on a UPS unit, and how much benefit you would gain to stand from utilising these safety nets. What features are recommended for your needs is something your IT provider can help with defining.

So, when the lights go out, what does prepared look like?

Essentially it means having time to formulate your own technology and communications plan rather than frantically trying to catch up once an outage happens. For the unprepared, a power outage means they go down with it. For the prepared, they are given a grace period to work out how best to manage the situation to maximise productivity, minimise the damage, and communicate accordingly.

If you would like to speak with an IT specialist about your own UPS requirements and the best fit for you, contact Aryon on 07 3414 0600. We can help you with a plan to protect your business and minimise the fallout from events like last Tuesday.

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