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Pitfalls to consider when choosing a UPS system

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The beginning of 2008 saw South Africa experience its worst power crisis in
the country's recent history, writes John Middlewick, channel manager at
Comztek.

Businesses and ordinary South Africans went in search for solutions to stay
afloat during these trying times and for many, UPS systems seemed like the
light at the end of the tunnel.
This was mainly because UPSs were positioned as a primary requirement for
one to survive this calamity. Indeed UPSs are an excellent solution when
consistent power is not guaranteed but there are other components to a
backup power supply system that are necessary to ensure that the system is
indeed foolproof.
When a UPS system is chosen as an alternative power system, it is important
to opt for a UPS from a reputable vendor as this is the heart of the system.
While a reputable brand guarantees a quality product, it also comes with
superior after sales service. As the demand for UPSs surged during the
earlier part of 2008, so did the influx of inferior products, many of which
are not well supported in South Africa. Purchasing a reputable brand offers
peace of mind at least at these two levels, i.e. product quality and
excellent after sales services.
In setting up their power solution, many organisations buy into the
misleading marketing promise that their UPS offers full protection against
power surges, which are typical after power cuts.
This, in many cases, is not true. Even though UPSs offer some surge
protection, it is only to a limited degree and any surge above this
threshold will damage the UPS and possibly some of the equipment connected
to it.
To adequately protect the system, it is wise to invest in a dedicated surge
protector or conditioner. These come at a fraction of the cost of a UPS and
are designed to offer protection against high power surges.
Because of their ability to handle high voltages, many individuals and
organisations think surge protectors can protect them against any power
surge, including lightning strikes. Lightning can produce extremely high
voltages, which are often above the threshold of most surge protectors
currently available. The most common and effective method to ensure adequate
protection against lightning strikes is to make certain that one's building
or house is properly earthed.
Like most computer equipment, UPSs are purchased for the long run. Most UPSs
have batteries that promise a lifespan of about five years, but what is
often overlooked by buyers is the fact that these standards are set in
markets quite different from South Africa. A life span of up to five years
can be expected in areas where power cuts are a rare occurrence. Not when
power cuts occur twice or three times a week for up to four hours each time.
In such conditions, one can realistically look at a lifespan of about three
years, and even less in some cases.
To get this mileage out of a UPS, it needs to be serviced regularly, at
least once a year, and the battery checked on an ongoing bases. This can
easily be done as most UPSs come with built-in management software that
monitors battery life and alerts the operator of any faults.
Having taken these points into consideration, one can be assured of a backup
power supply that is reliable and will keep the light burning in times of
darkness.