Some get a lot of press and others just quietly do their jobs day in, day out.
The uninterruptible power supply, or UPS as it's more commonly known, may not be the most dynamic or interesting of subjects and it may not be a technology that has filled you with wonderment or has even remotely stimulated your mind. However, in a world that has taken to 'online' life as swiftly and dramatically as we have, it may be one technology that we shouldn't overlook.
We have all seen those cumbersome boxes, full of batteries, that quietly hum away in the corner of the office, but we rarely give any thought to what they do or probably to their significance. Of course, if you are into e-commerce and your web site is your shop window you may be foolish enough to think that downtime is part and parcel of your online presence and an acceptable but unfortunate fact of life - it just happens.
Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is, any downtime is far from that simple. Time spent offline is never that innocuous, no matter how short it is. It may only mean losing a few sales in the short term, but once a buyer has been forced to look elsewhere, and they've found what they were looking for and are happy with the service they get, you've probably lost them for good. Now that's an expense most businesses would prefer not to accept, especially as many customers come via word of mouth or find your site through a search engine. Miss them once and the truth is they rarely come back!
You don't even need a major disaster to tip the balance, all it takes is a simple everyday act to throw you into complete darkness. Once the power's gone, so are a few more customers.
If you've just put the kettle on and half the city has joined you, the dip in power could just tip the balance and literally ruin your coffee break, taking your web server down too. Ah, but all is not lost. Remember that cumbersome box - the one that quietly hummed away in the corner of your last employer's office? Well, it may not be particularly dynamic or interesting, but it could provide that much needed power supply to keep your web servers serving and your web site truly 'online.' True, your coffee break just went out the window and you're sitting in the dark, but your web site's still up and running and you're still making money. Doesn't it bring a warm glow to your heart?
How long you can survive a power cut will depend on the output of your chosen UPS and its individual battery life, but if it's just a small blip, a peak or a trough, you can simply sail through it without a care in the world. You may only need enough breathing space to reset the RCB (residual circuit breaker), but time is valuable in the world of e-commerce and every moment counts. This is the era of 24/7 shopping, banking and surfing!
This is where the importance of contingency planning comes into effect. Once you know the type of problems that can affect your business you can start to lay down plans that will incorporate solutions. You can also calculate the size of UPS you'll require to keep you going. They actually come in a variety of sizes, from very small units suitable for a single CPU, to hefty units with large banks of back-up battery power that could run a whole office and all its equipment. If it worries you that you are putting your faith in batteries, which ultimately deplete and age when not in regular use, you'll be pleased to know that modern-day units come complete with battery management software that allows depletion and recharging on a regular basis to extend the batteries' life-span and to provide low battery or battery failure warnings.
In a large server farm you would not simply rely on one UPS to complete your security; you'd have a complement of UPS units to provide protection across multiple servers and other mission critical systems. In the event of the 'coffee-break syndrome' or the lightening strike, you could sail through your power loss with ease. Blackouts, fluctuations in voltage and other electrical problems would be automatically detected, allowing your alternative power supply to kick in each and every time a problem is detected. The upshot is no more unnecessary downtime, no more lost data as a result of power outage and a continuity plan that works every time without having to be manually implemented. Therefore, whatever time of day or night it's needed your UPS will be on tap.
Companies that deal with this type of solution are plentiful, with top names that have been around long enough to know what a customer needs to provide not just adequate protection, but suitable and appropriate protection. They may offer service contracts that give peace of mind, as well as regular advice on any additional units you may need to augment your level of protection as your business needs expand.
So now you know: that 'boring' piece of hardware that never really did anything for you and which held no real significance may just be able to save your entire business in your hour of need with its hour of supply on demand!
Jayne Parkhouse is reviews editor for SC Magazine.