One of the most important gadgets in the security arsenal — and one of the most often overlooked as a tool for security — is the uninterruptible power supply (UPS). A good UPS isn't just a battery backup designed to provide you with a precious few minutes to save files and close applications when there's a power outage. In fact, that may be its least important function.
More important, a good UPS provides both power conditioning and protection against file system corruption in the event of a power outage:
- Power conditioning is provided when a UPS ensures that the level of power provided to your computer doesn't fluctuate too much. Surge protectors provide a very rudimentary form of power conditioning, but they only protect against spikes in power, ignoring brownouts and blackouts. Surge protectors generally aren't even all that great at protecting against power spikes. The lowest quality UPS devices don't provide any power conditioning at all other than protection against blackouts, but, as you move up the quality scale, you can get better power conditioning from your UPS. Over time, fluctuating power sources (what we often call "dirty" power) can damage your computer's power supply. A power supply that has been degraded in this manner can begin providing variable power to the computer's components, which are extremely sensitive to such fluctuations, and they too begin to degrade. This can lead to intermittent hardware problems that are difficult to diagnose and ultimately to failure of RAM, CPUs, and even hard drives.
- File system corruption protection is provided to some extent by even the cheapest UPS, as long as it acts as an effective battery backup. Whenever your computer suddenly loses power or otherwise halts or restarts without warning, there's a possibility your file system may have been in an inconsistent state at that time due to data write scheduling. If you're unlucky, this can corrupt your file system, possibly killing the operating system install or destroying important data. There are ways to recover such data most of the time, but these techniques can involve hiring an outside data recovery expert and end up costing thousands of dollars. It's better to simply prevent file system corruption in the first place as much as possible.
The importance of a good UPS to security is often overlooked because when people think "security," they generally think of perimeter security. It doesn't often occur to people that ultimately, all security boils down to two things: Protecting your data and protecting your resources. You don't want either one falling into the wrong hands, and you don't want either one destroyed. While you're thinking about keeping them from falling into the wrong hands, don't forget about keeping them from simply being destroyed.
A quality UPS is key to protecting your data and hardware against being destroyed by pure, unadulterated bad luck.
Chad Perrin is an IT consultant, developer, and freelance professional writer. He holds both Microsoft and CompTIA certifications and is a graduate of two IT industry trade schools.