The company that I work for had a pressing need for some battery backup. We were adding new servers with more power draw, and our existing UPS just was not cutting it. One of the biggest challenges that we faced was a lack of 20 amp (or bigger) outlets. Our office is only equipped with 15 amp outlets, no one ever expected our needs to grow as quickly as they have been. As a result, we were limited to about 1.5 kVa worth of power.

Originally, due to cost considerations, we were going to stick with some low end, line interactive units (the Powerware 5120, believe). One of the reasons we suddenly needed so much power though was our new server, a dual Xeon 3 gHz system with 4 SATA II drives in it, rated at 700 watts. Although it was fairly obvious that the unit would not be drawing anywhere near 700 watts, 300 – 350 seemed to be a reasonable estimate of the power draw of that server. Add to that the load of three other servers, and a single 1.5 kVa system would be quite near its maximum capacity, and well over the recommended capacity.

We decided to not go with the Powerware unit, and instead opt for a pair of GE GT rackmount units, each with an external battery pack for additional runtime. Here is why we opted for this particular unit:
* Its maximum load is 900 watts, while many competing units were rated at 700 watts
* 2U rackmount form factor for each unit, as well as each battery pack
* Dual conversion, as opposed to line interactive
* Able to daisy chain up to three external battery packs per UPS unit
* Plenty of outlets on the unit
* Outstanding price point, especially in comparison to other 1.5 kVa dual conversion units
The last point was the most important. Although the cost was significantly higher than any line interactive unit, it was less expensive (by at least 20%) than any competing product. For a number of reasons, I will not name the vendor or the price paid for the units.

The units arrived via freight. Initially, I was rather scared by them; the freight company listed four boxes at a total of 290 lbs. The prospect of manhandling 75 lb. units did not thrill me. When the boxes arrived, I was delighted to discover that they were not nearly as heavy as I had originally expected. Initial inspection of the units showed them to be extremely well constructed. The power cords were, by far, the most heavy duty 15 amp power cords that I have ever seen. Indeed, they were of a higher, heavier duty quality than on the APC SmartUPS 2200 that I have at home. Likewise, the connectors for the external battery packs were extremely heavy duty.

Installation and set up of the units was a breeze. The only sticking point was the cords for the external battery packs. They were pre-bent into a curve, and extremely resistant to bending. If I wanted to swap the position of the UPS and the battery (putting the battery above the unit, as opposed to under), I would have had an extremely difficult time. I also had some difficulty inserting one of the ends of the battery’s power cord into one plug. A little bit of wiggling cured that, however. The plugs were secured with bolts, but the holes in the power cord’s “ears” was slightly small. I was very happy to discover that both the UPS’s and the batteries were not nearly as heavy as I expected. The handles on the front of the units made it easy to move the units, and picking them up without a helper was not a problem.

After installation, the units continued to delight. They are whisper quiet, and generate extremely little heat. While this is not a prime concern in a server rack buried in a server room, I believe that a tower version of this unit would be extremely pleasant to have next to a desk. Indeed, the units are quieter and generate less heat than my desktop PC. It was nice to deal with rackmount equipment that did not forgo the creature comforts. Visually, the units are quite attractive. Although the average systems administrator probably could not care less, some people do like a good looking unit. The units are a pleasant silver color, with a sporty red stripe across the front. The control panel is extremely bright and easy to read. The LEDs are spaced far apart, so light from one LED does not appear to light the other LEDs. The control panel has a general “step meter” that displays load while receiving external power, and shows battery charge while on battery. I would have preferred to see dual meters. In my experience, getting an idea of how much load can be reduced by shutting down non-critical systems first to extend run time for more important systems can be important.

I must admit though to being a bit disappointed in GE’s “JUMPStart” software for the units. [Correction 8/23/2006: The software is named “JUMP Manager”, not “JUMPStart”; I got the name confused with a Sun software package I was recently dealing with.] My first impression of it was less than favorable: it requested an installation path without spaces. It is a Java application that seems to run on both Windows and *Nix. I tested it on a Windows 2003 Enterprise Edition server. After installation, it was not courteous enough to make a group for itself in the Programs menu. It just dumped itself into the root of the menu. It also did not add itself to “Add/Remove Programs.” It also did not add itself as a Windows service. When I did run it manually, it left a nasty Java console window open. The Java console was spitting out errors, but the software itself seemed to be running fine. This software, as far as I am concerned, is not ready for primetime for general UPS monitoring purposes. I would definitely recommend purchasing the add-on SNMP card, and monitoring the unit that way. I will be looking into that myself, and add it to my MOM configuration, along with scripts to shut down servers in the case of a low battery.

Overall, I think the GE GT unit is a fantastic item. It is available in 1 kVa – 3 kVa capacities. The only problem that was beyond “one time nuisance” was the lack of good software for the serial connection, pretty much so mandating the purchase of the add-on SNMP card. You should factor this into your purchase price if you decide to buy this unit. The lightweight of the units and the battery packs lets me feel more comfortable that I will not develop a hernia when it comes time to replace the batteries.