Soon, uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) will do everything but calculate spreadsheet totals for you. They already offer on-screen configuration displays, serial USB connections, remote alarm notification, automatic voltage conditioning, surge, lightning, and network spike protection, hot swappable batteries, proprietary software interfaces, and more.

While having lots of bells and whistles is wonderful, the most important function of a UPS is to provide a regular, dependable source of power, permitting a system to be powered down appropriately. In the event the power fails, it’s nice to know that servers or workstations can be shut down in an orderly fashion. In fact, it’s a necessity you shouldn’t live without.

The expense of a UPS is justified simply by eliminating the need to sit through disk repair operations every time the power fails and a machine must be reboot (never mind saving the costs of lost data).

Having experienced intermittent power outages that brought several test systems down suddenly without warning, my test network was ready for a UPS. Luckily, my small LAN doesn’t provide critical support to other systems. Thus, I didn’t need to raid my kid’s college fund to invest in a UPS. Instead, I could get by with a small, inexpensive unit.

Belkin 350VA Regulator Pro Gold Series-USB
After studying my options (flipping through the pages of a few mail-order catalogs while watching college bowl games on TV 0, I made my purchase. For just $100, including delivery, a Belkin 350VA Regulator Pro Gold Series-USB (shown in Figure A) showed up on my doorstep.

Figure A
The 350VA Regulator Pro Gold Series-USB comes with power, RJ-11 (telephone) and USB cables, proprietary software, and more. Image courtesy of Belkin Components.

My requirements were simple. The UPS I chose had to:

  • ·        Power a 17-inch monitor.
  • ·        Work with a variety of Windows operating systems, including Windows 2000.
  • ·        Provide LAN (10/100Base-T) spike protection.
  • ·        Provide at least seven or eight minutes of uptime in the event of a power failure.

Automatic Voltage Regulation
I’m not one of those engineers that must operate in a clean room, experience no power fluctuations (outages are another issue), or push every last baud cycle out of a modem. Therefore, the power-conditioning feature wasn’t at the top of my list. Nevertheless, it’s nice to know it’s there. Belkin’s Automatic Voltage Regulation (AVR) works to ensure systems receive a steady source of electricity.

In many environments, the voltage that machines receive can vary significantly. If you don’t believe me, turn your microwave oven and dishwasher or air conditioner on at the same time. I bet the lights will dim for a second or so, as all the appliances (including computers) struggle for their fair share of electricity. By conditioning the power delivered to plugged-in components, the Regulator Pro helps eliminate such inconsistencies that can slow a system.

I also like knowing that, should lightning hit a tree outside, the accompanying electrical spike won’t fry components on my network. I once lost an answering machine, video board, and fax card that way.

Uninterrupted power
Within a week of deploying the UPS and configuring its shutdown software, the power went out. I was two rooms away working on a just-delivered pizza.

Immediately, I heard the Regulator Pro’s alarm chirp, announcing that its power source had failed. The server, monitor, and KVM switch powered by the UPS were all working properly, though. I was able to shut the system down in an orderly fashion and with no data loss.

How long the system could have run, I’m not sure. I’ve experienced additional blackouts and find it easiest to have the shutdown software begin powering down the server as soon as the power fails.

Judging from the UPS’ regular load, though, the power wouldn’t last for long. I estimate the 17-inch monitor, server, and KVM switch would drain the battery in less than six or seven minutes. If you need to power more than two workstations, I recommend you select a UPS with more horsepower, such as one that supports 300 watts. My 350VA Regulator Pro supports a maximum load of 210 watts.

Bells and whistles
Should you opt for the Regulator Pro, you’ll find that several features are available. You can view a wide variety of battery and power statistics, including the battery’s power status, temperature, and health, as shown in Figure B. You can also view the UPS’s load rating, configure alarms, and more, using Belkin’s Sentry Bulldog software, which is included with the UPS.

Figure B
You can view meters that track the status of many important settings using Belkin’s Sentry Bulldog software.

Many actions and alerts can be configured for several events. Among the events that can be set are power failures, low battery conditions, failed tests, and overloads, as shown in Figure C. You can run many actions when specific events occur. For example, you can trigger e-mail notifications, alarms, and system shutdowns. You can also specify that specific commands be run.

Figure C
You can easily configure the Regulator Pro to shut down a system when the power fails.

The bottom line
If you have a server or a couple of workstations that hold data you don’t want to lose, you might want to consider an inexpensive UPS, such as the Regulator Pro. It requires little to no maintenance, and mine has proven capable of powering down machines neatly.

Another benefit with the Regulator Pro series is the number of operating systems that are supported. You’ll find they work with most every Windows platform, Linux and FreeBSD systems, UNIX machines, and even Macintosh and NetWare boxes.

While the 350VA Regulator Pro won’t power a multitude of systems for very long, it does provide sufficient time to shut down a server or a couple of workstations quickly. Better yet, as with most top-selling UPSs, you don’t even need to be around. Just use the proprietary shutdown software to feed instructions to the UPS and you can rest easy the next time a thunderstorm rolls through your locale and knocks the power out.

Here’s hoping you have a piping hot pizza already delivered when it happens.