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A battery backup serves as one of the easiest and most cost-effective methods of protecting against data loss. Further, quality battery backup devices help prevent damage to expensive computer equipment.
Whether thunderstorms lurk, a facility's electrical power proves inconsistent, or you just need to ensure your organization's systems never shut down midstream, you'll want to consider these 10 things when you look for a business-class battery backup.
A common temptation when purchasing a battery backup is to buy the first low-end unit you find. When data retention and equipment protection are paramount, it's critical that you opt for a battery backup and not just a surge protector. Surge protectors offer no opportunity to shut down systems properly when electrical service fails, nor do they typically offer the same level of equipment warranties found with battery backups.
Manufacturers make all kinds of promises, including conditioned electricity delivery, and pack numerous outlets into even the least expensive units. If a battery backup doesn't have the energy required to power the equipment you connect, the unit will perform poorly. It will generate additional heat, runtimes during power failures will be drastically reduced, and battery longevity will decrease.
Make sure you don't overwork the battery backup you select. Choose a model that can adequately meet your needs. Identifying the appropriate wattage is the first step. Most entry-level battery backups provide 200 to 450 watts and run between $40 and $100. Pay particular attention to wattage and volt-ampere ratings, as they not only impact how well a battery backup will operate, but they prove critical in knowing how much time you'll receive to shut down systems cleanly when power outages occur.
Unless you're running only a single simple PC and monitor, elect for a more powerful device. APC, Belkin and Tripp Lite, three leading manufacturers of battery backups, each provide selection tools on their Web sites designed to help match your equipment's power needs with an appropriate corresponding product.
#2: Wire fault indication
Organizations frequently experience service outages and are forced to replace equipment prematurely because a facility's electrical supply is wired improperly. Even if the electrical service is properly configured upon deployment, there's no guarantee it'll stay that way. This is especially true with shared use office condominiums, strip-centers, and other locations where tenants change fairly frequently.
Whenever changes are made to a facility's electrical service, the potential exists for wiring circuits incorrectly, eliminating a ground or somehow otherwise introducing wiring faults. Insist on purchasing a battery backup that alerts you to any faults within the facility's electrical supply. Otherwise, your best efforts to protect against data loss and fried systems could be for naught.
#3: Automated diagnostic testing
With the schedules and responsibilities that today's IT consultants and administrators assume, there's typically no time available to run through a periodic checklist aimed at ensuring a battery backup—often a unit hidden behind a cubicle wall or tucked behind equipment in a server room—continues operating properly. When selecting a battery backup, confirm that the unit you're purchasing includes software that not only regularly tests the device's battery and runtime capacity but also logs the test data.
#4: Battery backup outlets
There's always a catch. Whether it's buying tires ("Oh, and mounting costs an additional $19.95 per tire") or a battery backup, you must read the fine print.
In the case of battery backups, the number of electrical outlets the model possesses will be boldly declared within the product literature and likely the front of the box. But you need to read more closely to identify how many of those precious outlets actually provide battery protection. Some battery backups boast eight outlets, but fully half of them may be limited to providing battery backup service. Review a model closely before purchasing to ensure that you won't be deploying a unit that fails to provide an adequate number of battery backup outlets.
#5: Automatic voltage regulation
Voltage regulation is likely the single biggest issue with personal computers, servers, and ever-expanding widescreen displays. Sure, the local energy utility may do a good job delivering electricity without interruption, but the quality of the electrical service provided is almost always inconsistent. Over time, even minor fluctuations (notably brownouts and intermittent spikes) take a toll on sensitive computer equipment.
When reviewing battery backup options, seek a model that offers automatic voltage regulation. In other words, purchase a unit that conditions utility-provided electricity before delivering it to the equipment you connect. This is a particularly critical consideration in environments where electrical lags, surges, and spikes occur frequently, such as industrial settings, factories, dentists offices (where high-powered medical equipment generates impressive spikes and sags several times a day), and similar locations.
#6: Serial connectivity
Battery backups work best when paired with software capable of closing open applications. Most UPS devices enable shutting down a system cleanly when electrical power fails, but special software is required to close open applications. Look for software (and the ability to configure a serial connection between the UPS and connected equipment) that supports closing open office productivity applications and other programs.
#7: Hot-swappable batteries
In midsize and large enterprises, ensure battery backups support hot-swappable batteries before the devices are ordered and deployed. Battery life is but two years or so. If you maintain a few rows of server racks, having to power down equipment to replace UPS batteries quickly becomes a formidable, after-hours chore. Avoid late nights. Select battery backups that enable replacing their batteries without having to disconnect or power down attached equipment.
Perhaps the most easily overlooked battery backup element is size. How big is the device you're purchasing and where will you place it?
Although those are seemingly two easy questions, a battery backup's size often causes trouble. Wherever you place it (whether in a server rack, beneath a desk, or on a small riser), the power cords for the equipment you connect to the device must be able to reach it. Further, the unit must fit comfortably within its space; you must leave several inches of room on each side of a battery backup to enable heat dissipation.
Mounting considerations are also a size-related issue. Several models boast floor stands and often 1U and 2U rack-mount hardware. Before purchasing, be sure to consider the battery backup's size/mounting requirements.
#9: Network protection
Network protection is critical. All the electrical protection in the world means nothing if you connect RJ-45 cables directly from telecom equipment to PCs, routers, switches, firewalls, and servers. Lightning strikes frequently travel telecommunications infrastructure and leave baked devastation in their wake. I've seen business-class DSL modems, firewalls, switches, NICs, and even motherboards all totaled by a single lightning strike.
Be sure that the battery backup device you purchase offers RJ-11 and RJ-45 protection. By placing the battery backup—with its automatic voltage regulation and protection—between telecommunications equipment and your organization's network and computers, you can most effectively prevent storm-related damage.
Within most organizations, obtaining adequate battery backups will require significant capital expenditure. In other words, quality business-class battery backups are not cheap. An easily overlooked requirement, the units can cost even small data centers thousands of dollars to deploy.
As battery backups protect an organization's entire network, computer systems, and data from loss and destruction, it's important to purchase from a reputable manufacturer. In addition, compare warranties carefully. Some models offer 90-day warranties, whereas better equipped business-class devices will feature two or three years coverage, not only for parts but for labor and batteries, as well. It may well make the most sense to pay up to 30 or even 40 percent more up front in exchange for assurance the manufacturer will step in should repairs be required two years after purchase and deployment.