Software Development

Practical tips for setting up a UPS

Today I'm going to share some pointers I learned from my previous experiences in buying and setting up a UPS for a midsize server room. I hope it will be useful to you.

Today I'm going to share some pointers I learned from my previous experiences in buying and setting up a UPS for a midsize server room. I hope it will be useful to you.

1. Count your sockets

It might seem like a no-brainer, but it is important to ensure that you have sufficient sockets available at the back of your UPS to meet your requirements. The number of sockets that is required can add up quickly once you factor in Internet-access equipment such as routers, modems, firewalls, and VPN appliances. Double that if you are running a multi-homed configuration, or have servers equipped with dual power supply units that are capable of hot failover. Do remember to plug in your monitors and KVMs -- if you are using them -- into a protected power outlet, too. (Just power them off when not in use) Another solution might be to buy standard power strips and manually rewire their default connectors with plugs that can fit those on your UPS. This is useful for protecting multiple minor pieces of equipment, such as modems and other low-drain equipment.

2. Consider additional UPS units

Some mid-range UPS models offer the ability to "cascade" additional battery packs from the main UPS. The additional battery packs are usually rack-mountable as well and represent a convenient way to increase the runtime of your UPS beyond the default configuration.

An advantage of going this route is that you get to share your available battery runtime more efficiently across all of your equipment. Other potential benefits - though it varies with models -- is the lower cost compared to scaling up to a higher range of UPS, as well as the possibility of hot-replacements of batteries.

On the other hand, you have to consider that certain mid-range UPS models do offer a number of features such as the ability to stagger power-on times, as well as giving you the ability to remotely power-cycle equipment at the power receptacle level. Having two separate UPS units working at 40% load does represent a full backup complement.

3. Beware the deep end

If you are working with rack-mounted equipment, you will do well to ensure that your UPS has sufficient space on the back portion after mounting onto your rack. While a 19-inch UPS will fit just fine into a 19-inch rack, the fact is that not all 19-inch racks are built the same.

Smaller racks built to a reduced footprint or inferior racks might not have enough spare leeway for you to plug in the power connectors and still be able to close the back door.

In addition, it is also worth noting that higher-end UPSs typically use customized or non-standard plugs on the UPS-end. It will be wise not to position your rack too far away from the wall power socket.

4. Create a separate power circuit or branch

If you have access to an electrician, it is normally best to have him or her create a separate branch circuit from your office's (or building's) main power switchboard. This will help reduce instances of staff tripping your server room's power by plugging in a faulty microwave oven.

5. Configure for (and test) the shutdown of servers

Many people forget that UPSs are meant only as a temporary measure for intermittent power outages. In an extended blackout or brownout, you do need to shut down your servers to prevent data loss. There are a few ways to do it -- including the installation of vendor-specific software utilities -- though we're not going to cover this today.

6. Other points to consider

TechRepublic members suggested a number of useful pointers in my previous article, "Selecting and installing your first UPS."

TR member Ethical_Loner suggested the online tool on APC's Web site here to get a better idea of your power requirements. TR member robo_dev cautioned against assuming all the connectors on a UPS are the same. Specifically, watch out for UPSs with power outlets that are divided into "Battery backup" and "Surge suppression", making sure to plug your equipment into the right outlet.

A topic which I completely missed out on would be the three categories of UPS that are available: off-line, line-interactive, and double-conversion. In a nutshell, it makes sense to go for a double-conversion UPS if budget allows. Due to the presence of a rectifier directly driving the inverter, a sort of electrical "firewall" is formed to better protect against noisy or poor power environment. An off-line UPS will only kick in during a power outage, and a line-interactive lies somewhere in between.

A number of TR members mentioned certain personally favored brands of UPS. Boon or bane, perhaps you can share your experiences with specific brands and models with us.

About

Paul Mah is a writer and blogger who lives in Singapore, where he has worked for a number of years in various capacities within the IT industry. Paul enjoys tinkering with tech gadgets, smartphones, and networking devices.

19 comments
sekar.t
sekar.t

Very informative and useful.

tmanting
tmanting

I work for a utility and I can tell you there's no such thing as 100% reliability in this business. Here in Michigan we just had the three worst consecutive days of thunderstorms in history and some of a competing utility's customers have been without power now for FIVE DAYS now. Five days. Even we have a natural gas powered backup generator for our headquarters and *we're the utility*! Look into natural gas or propane powered generators to keep you going past the UPS up-time. It's well worth the investment.

JCitizen
JCitizen

for the sine wave conditioning, please be advised that the previous version of Opti-Safe Extreme was very poor code and cause many problems with the operating system. It looks like they finally came up with a 2007 version of this software, probably for Vista; but the previous XP version was horrible. It wasn't there just a few weeks ago. I would plan for some other brand of third party software if you need to track and administrate your Opti-UPS.

razz2
razz2

Make sure you also add all the wattage and if you have trouble figuring out the best choice or choices for size use a UPS sizing tool to make sure the system you implement will give the desired run time. Also of course some require 20 or 30 amp circuits so as mentioned in the article get a dedicated circuit run if needed.

gherardini
gherardini

Another big tip... ensure that your equipment matches the power of your UPS, 110/208/220. Whatever environment you're running, be sure you're not going to blow anything up because you didn't check the power spec sheet of your equipment. Or under power it.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

I've been involved with PC's since the beginning in 1980 and Tripplite has been at the forefront since and even before for labratory systems too. Their warranty policies and service are second to none and they offer a wide range of units for the home user and the commerical applications. The many options are available to support all applications with or without software to institute remote and orderly shutdowns in the event of extended outages. Their filtering abilties also support the commerical uses as well as the home user plaqued with unstable utilities. My opinion - - you can't buy better.

paulmah
paulmah

A number of TR members mentioned certain personally favored brands of UPS. Boon or bane, perhaps you can share your experiences with specific brands and models with us.

KJQ
KJQ

If you have/get a generator, make sure you plan how long you need it to run. When hurricane Juan took out our city power for 7 days, we only had enough diesel fuel for 3 days. Only a mad scramble for a fuel refill saved us from disaster. Good thing the cause of the power outage didn't take out all the roads and/or fuel delivery companies. We've since added more on-site fuel storage.

JCitizen
JCitizen

the fire code restrictions. I wouldn't be surprised if some systems weren't cost competitive with large scale UPS. A large battery bank can be expensive and short lived if cycled enough times. Be sure you contract a system that has auto-cutoff to the grid to keep the peace with the utility company; and a black box that conditions the voltage/frequency for a good power quality.

Jbrady
Jbrady

I am printing out your comment for my CFO. We are trying to get funding for a NG Generator and transfer switch right now.

oz penguin
oz penguin

power doesn't always go during business hours, add some SMS/Text/Pager notification to get an administrator onto the issue ASAP

msa669
msa669

If you run your UPS close to the runtime limit ensure it doesn't power on your servers after a outage until it has enough juice in the batteries to safely shut them down again. Frequently the power will come back on only to go off again due to a surge in demand. The last thing you want at this point is your servers to be starting up with flat batteries in your UPS. Most UPS software gives you an option to set the minimum battery level before powering on connected devices.

adrianfoot
adrianfoot

I understand that it is not good practice to put a ups on top of another ups, I am told there may be an issue with harmonics. Does anyone know about the implications. For instance a comms room may have a large 3 phase ups, and a client may want to have a rack mounted one to control and shutdown servers etc. Does the rack mounted ups have to be on a dirty supply or can it use the comms room ups? Thanks in advance

moe
moe

Having used various brands over the years (APC (Matrix, Symmetra, SmartUPS), Tripp-lite, Powerware) I've found that the Liebert products have served our environment the best. Not saying anything negative as all the aforementioned do the job they were designed to do. Regardless of power conditions from the local utility, all my equipment gets 120v from the Liebert units that we have. There is no high/low threshold to set as an Online ups is constantly supplying clean & stable power.

jsaubert
jsaubert

... they are all #1. Very true when it comes to power. APC for server mounted units have always been my go-to UPSs, we've rarely had any issues. I stick with them for our stand alone workstations because we seem to get beter battery life out of them with all the surges and dips we get.

pointzerotwo
pointzerotwo

Several weeks after moving into a new facility, we had a rare 5-hour power outage. The backup generator kicked in immediately as planned, and then stopped 20 minutes later. With all the other issues of moving into a new building, no one had thought to fill the fuel tank. A quick run to the gas station got it running again, but then another issue arose. Perhaps not surprisingly, no one had thought about hooking up the restrooms to the generator (battery powered emergency lighting should be enough). However, since all the new toilets and faucets relied on electric motion sensors and valves, the lack of power soon became an issue.

wwilson1900
wwilson1900

Also dont for get to add power for your HVAC system, you dont want to turn your servers back on just to have a melt down.

JCitizen
JCitizen

I wouldn't rely on the administrative proprietary software provided with the hardware; unless it is SMS/Text/Pager notification system provided by Solar Winds; I would tend to trust them more that anyone else. Definitely better than Opti-Safe extreme.

JCitizen
JCitizen

A good UPS system should monitor line conditioning and prevent harmonics. Of course there is no subsitute for good circuit design; only a qualified electrical contractor should be messing with things like this unless you have college level production technology training yourself.

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