Data Centers

Protect your network using UPS systems

Is your network prepared for a power outage? Jake Necessary explains why it's a good idea to use UPS systems in your network to keep from losing valuable data.


Are you prepared to protect your network resources in case of a storm? As network engineers, we often develop disaster recovery plans in case of a hardware failure. But do you have a specific plan of action in case of a power outage? Read further to learn more about power outages and how you can protect the network.

The calm before the storm
The first stage of network protection occurs before the storm. Prior planning can prevent the churning of your network equipment when power is lost. (Just so you know, churning is a technical term I use often. I think the way the word sounds is equal to the disastrous effect of removing power from a computer.)

The best way to prevent a sudden loss of power is by using an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Webopedia defines UPS as “a power supply that includes a battery to maintain power in the event of a power outage.” A UPS gives an operating system and/or network engineer valuable time to gracefully shut down the computer. There are basically three types of UPS systems: Standby power supplies, Ferro resonant, and online “true” UPS systems.

Sponsored by SUN Microsystems
Introducing Sun's first Midframe servers that combine mainframe capabilities with midrange affordability: The Sun Fire(R) Midframe server family. For more information, check out TechRepublic's Server Architecture Briefing Center, or visit Sun Microsystems site

Introducing Sun's first Midframe servers that combine mainframe capabilities with midrange affordability: The Sun Fire(R) Midframe server family. For more information, check out TechRepublic's Server Architecture Briefing Center, or visit Sun Microsystems site

What do these different systems do?
  • Standby power supplies are systems that wait for a loss in power. After a power failure, a battery powered inverter turns on to supply electricity. These systems are generally cheap and provide little to no noise filtering or protection against spikes or abnormal decreases in voltage.
  • Ferro resonant UPS systems are a hybrid of standby and true UPS systems. Basically, the electronics use a Ferro resonant transformer to maintain a constant voltage output even with a varying input. These systems provide excellent protection against line noise and deploy moderate amounts of heat. Best Power, Inc., supplies this type of UPS. You can find more information by visiting their Web site at http://www.bestpower.com/.
  • Online UPS systems continuously operate from an inverter. These systems provide the best protection from power outages. However, these devices are very expensive, use more power than the other two kinds of UPSs listed, and generate enormous quantities of heat.

When recommending uninterruptible power supplies, I tend to support the online variety, although the Ferro resonant UPS hybrid is another good selection. If cost were a factor, the hybrid would clearly win. Standby power supplies should be used only in small home offices. Many companies market a variety of UPS systems. The best advice I can provide is to research the product, test, and buyer beware!

Good tips on keeping up a UPS
Most power outages occur for only a few minutes. However, the aftershocks can result in hours of mop-up work. UPS systems are often the first line of defense. While they usually work as soon as the power goes out, it is advisable to test the UPS by running a simulated power failure. If you do not test the system, you risk losing data or hardware.

UPS systems should be monitored every week, and simulated power failures should be scheduled quarterly. After a successful backup of the network, and during non-peak hours, secure power to a server by turning off a breaker. Throwing the circuit breaker is the best method to test a UPS system. Although unplugging the equipment from the wall will most likely result in the same effect, the equipment has lost the reference to ground. Throwing the circuit breaker is the closest to your computer actually losing power.

Don’t you just hate it when…
Often, I see servers placed next to a UPS, but the computer is plugged directly into the wall. I have an interesting theory on this problem. When engineers build a server, in their excitement they simply forget to make the connection to the UPS.

As time goes by, the IT department assumes all is safe because the UPS is present. Finally, during a real outage everyone realizes what equipment is protected. I have tried to live by an old saying: “Remember the 6Ps,” which translates to Prior Planning Prevents Pitiful Poor Performance!

Power is restored but the storm has just begun
Companies can’t afford to have every computer component on a network connected to a UPS. So after the power is restored, the network engineers need to have a list of items to check. The following are some components I check once power is restored after an outage:
  • Network printers and print servers
  • Hubs, routers, and switches
  • Fiber connections
  • Computers that do not have a specified users, such as general use systems
  • Scanners, copiers, and security equipment

After an outage, we are primarily faced with user-type problems such as these:
  • Users wonder if they will lose their documents. This is the most common question, and most likely, users will lose some data. Through training, users should be taught to save documents often to protect their work. Microsoft Word has the ability to autosave at specified intervals. I would suggest you never make a promise, but you can attempt to restore user documents from autosave or a temp directory. If the user loses information, make sure to emphasize the importance of saving often.
  • Most machines will run some form of scandisk when a PC is re-energized. This often produces confusion for the user.
  • When connecting to the network, the server reports that the user is trying to log in to many workstations simultaneously. This problem occurs because the user was unable to properly shut down, and the server “thinks” the user is already logged in to the network. Through training, you can let your users know this is a typical problem that occurs when a “rough” shutdown occurs. I usually tell my users to wait five minutes and try again. I don’t like to bump their logins temporarily because I sometimes forget. Then I have created a security problem.

Lights off in your office at 5:00 o’clock
Through the use of uninterruptible power supplies, power outage recovery plans, and training, your network downtime can be greatly reduced. Be sure to practice your recovery plan and test the UPS systems often. Constantly motivate your users to employ a “save often” approach while developing documents. Reduce the network engineers’ overtime by implementing a power outage recovery plan today!
Do you have a power outage recovery plan in place? What type of UPS do you use in your organization? Share your power-loss war stories by posting a comment below or sending us a note.

Editor's Picks

Free Newsletters, In your Inbox