Software Development

10 things to look for in a business-class battery backup

A battery backup can help protect your organization's network, computer systems, and data from loss and destruction--but only if you choose one that's reliable and designed to meet your needs. Here are the factors and features you should know about when you go shopping for a solution to protect your systems.

This article is also available as a PDF download.

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.

#1: Capacity

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.

#8: Size

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.

#10: Warranty

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.

10 comments
JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

What kinds of experiences (good or bad) have you had with battery backups? Are there some other considerations or cautions you'd add to this list?

jdclyde
jdclyde

The key word is "had". Both of them burned up and just stopped working. No noticeable surges and the APC and MinuteMan UPS's we had running off the same isolated outlet are just fine. We will not be giving them any more of our business.

wlportwashington
wlportwashington

The article had a lot of great info but there are a few problems. We use APC to protect the servers but none of them have hot-swapable batteries. I have found that no UPS has hot swapable batteries. And Belkin...I put four of them ($120 ea) into the house and none of them held up more than three months. One thing that needs to be looked at, is the output a true sine wave or a square wave? some systems are sensitive to the point that the square wave will cause overheating of the computer.

dspeacock
dspeacock

They've saved my bacon a few times, allowing orderly shutdowns, allowing data to be saved etc. I just make sure whichever one I get is from a reputable maker. Personally, I've ALWAYS gone with APC because of the service and support they've provided over the years. ANd their prices aren't bad either.

sctang73
sctang73

Found their products to be of lower quality parts when compared to APC, Minuteman and even some Belkin UPS products. This goes from the battery to the software, even down to the manuals. Personally, I prefer APC, then Minuteman. In terms of hardware, they are about equal w/ their list of options and overall reliability. However, APC's battery management software is easily more intuitive.

tsukrn
tsukrn

We have the APC Smart-UPS devices, which allow us to Hot Swap batteries. Many of the APC units allow for hot swapping.

bkinsey
bkinsey

You can get UPS systems with hot-swappable batteries, but in my experience, you're no longer talking about single-system designed UPS'. For instance, we've got a Powerware 9170 12kVA with fully hot-swappable batteries and control modles - the thing's fully redundant, but it's not cheap, and it's the size of a small refrigerator. Of course, it's also protecting 40-50 computers, including desktops and servers, and a phone system, through building wide protected circuits. Also, if you're serious about protecting mission-critical stuff, you want an "online" UPS. Meaning that it sits completely inline between utility power and your systems. It uses the utility feed to charge itself, and regenerates consistent 60hz sine output for your systems. Most smaller UPS' (the good ones) are what they call "line interactive", meaning they feed utility power straight through until the utility feed gets out of bounds of whatever parameters it's using (voltage, frequency, wave-form, etc.), at which point they switch to battery. (The cheap ones don't handle anything except an actual outage). Before we put in the Powerware, we lost power supplies on a regular basis, just due to less-than-clean power from the utility. Since then, not one power supply has failed.

PrestonSwann
PrestonSwann

We had a power outage just yesterday for 3.5 hours and our APC UPS's saved the day. 1. Get the managment card 2. Buy enough batt power to survive a min of 1 hour outage. Trust that. 3. Use the testing that comes with the system to gauge your batt time

NOW LEFT TR
NOW LEFT TR

How much? - you would need a massive battery or battery system for that.

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