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

#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.