What is a UPS and How Does it Protect Your Network?

The weather here in the Tri-State can be unpredictable. In fact, some are apt to say, “If you don’t like the weather here, wait five minutes – it’ll change.”

At no time is this more accurate than during the warm weather months, where a thunderstorm can appear in the middle of a beautiful, sunny afternoon. Whether you fear or welcome a thunderstorm could have a lot to do with how well-prepared you are for its possible aftereffects.

By all accounts, October 2, 2013 was a typical early fall day here in Evansville. Early October in this area is generally graced with warm temperatures and humidity levels toward the high side, which sometimes gives rise to a thunderstorm just as it does in the spring. On this day, a thunderstorm rolled into the downtown area late in the afternoon, and during that storm, lightning struck the building where the Lieberman Technologies offices are located.

ups lightning storm

If you’ve never been inside a building when it was struck by lightning, trust me when I tell you it’s a harrowing experience. Beyond the initial shock of flash and noise that had most of us diving for cover, the resulting power surge affected every business located in our building, particularly with regard to technology. Phones, workstations, and network cards all suffered damage, and some companies in our building needed to have many of their devices replaced. Lieberman Technologies suffered the least damage, as only two workstations and two servers needed to have network cards replaced, as well as two phones and two data switches, and we experienced no downtime and no loss of data. Our business neighbors were not as fortunate.

How did we escape catastrophic damage to our systems?

Simply put, we utilize an uninterruptible power supply, or UPS, on all of our equipment in order to safeguard against loss of power or power surges such as the one we experienced during the lightning strike.

What a UPS is, and what it is not

A UPS is typically used to protect hardware such as servers, workstations, telecommunications equipment, or other electrical equipment from an unexpected disruption of power, such as a power source failure or voltage spike. However, a UPS is not a power strip, which is just a device that allows you to plug in multiple electronic devices and provides minimal surge protection, and it should not be confused with one. A UPS also provides greater protection than a basic surge protector, which many companies use as a layer of protection against power fluctuations.

Lieberman Technologies has UPSs in place for servers and at desk locations, and these protect workstations, phones, and printers, as well as any other device that may be connected. UPSs provide much greater surge protection than a typical surge protector. They also provide power line conditioning, which is an adjustment of the power output to keep it consistent when the incoming power is either low (lag) or high (spike), which is precisely what they did during the lightning strike. The spike in power from the strike was followed by very brief power outage, and the UPSs protected our equipment from the damaging effects of such a severe fluctuation in power. Additionally, the UPS units provided power backup during this event. Some UPSs come with a USB/Serial connection to the PC or server along with software that will allow for a “graceful” shutdown of the server or workstation, instead of an immediate powering off, which can often lead to software corruption. We were able to retain and maintain our working data and did not suffer a loss of productivity in the days that followed.

UPSs protect equipment and your bottom line

The equipment lost by our business neighbors was not connected to UPSs but simply to ordinary power strips or directly into wall outlets. Most of the equipment that was damaged by the resulting voltage spike was not utilizing UPSs and instead was connected to power strips. As a result, our business neighbors lost phones, workstations, thin client devices, and network cards, and had to replace up to 70% of their equipment. Imagine the downtime and expense associated with replacing up to 70% of your company’s equipment all at once, plus trying to recover any data lost. How would that affect your operating budget?

Disaster preparedness for businesses includes safeguarding data and equipment against acts of nature as well as against fires, water damage, and human error. Storm damage can come at any time of the year, and lightning strikes are not just limited to the spring storm season. Even though it’s impossible to protect against lightning strikes 100%, implementing the appropriate UPSs for your equipment will go a long way toward protecting your data and your investment. If you’re currently using power strips or basic surge protectors to power your devices, an IT professional can tell you more about how to better safeguard your company’s equipment. There are different types of UPSs for different applications, and if you’d like to know which ones would work best for your company’s devices, contact me. I’d be happy to help assess your company’s needs.

What is your computer plugged into – a power strip, a surge protector, or a UPS? Let us know in the comments!