South Africa's unstable electricity situation is well known, and while the infamous "load shedding" incidents of 2008 appear to have passed, the fact remains that power outages can and do occur on a regular basis.
So do power surges, and their lesser publicised counterparts known as brownouts, where power levels dip below voltage and can damage equipment over time, writes Robert Brandt, UPS and infrastructure product specialist at DCC.
In fact, economists are predicting that with power demand returning to levels seen in 2007, after which load shedding incidents followed, the power utility will once again be unable to keep up supply during peak periods.
This makes it more important than ever for businesses to protect their expensive equipment investments through power backup systems, such as generators and UPS solutions.
A UPS will help businesses ensure that equipment is protected from power fluctuations and the possibility of data loss from sudden outages and dirty power supply.
However, organisations need to bear in mind that a UPS alone is generally not enough, as these devices do not run for longer than an hour and a half, and the typical length of a power outage is generally between four and five hours.
If the UPS battery is completely drained it can take as long as a week to fully recharge, so if the power fails more than once in a week the run time of the UPS will be affected if it is not fully powered.
To deal with extended power outages, a generator is often necessary to keep businesses up and running.
However, a generator alone is also not sufficient to protect equipment, as even with automatic transfer switches to turn on the generator when mains power fails, there are a few seconds where the generator is warming up that power is lost, which can cause loss or corruption of data and damage to equipment.
A UPS and a generator should work in tandem, with the UPS acting as a bridge between outlet power and generator power in times of failure. The UPS will protect data and equipment as the power switches to generator supply, ensuring continued productivity and data integrity.
While many businesses have already invested in generators and UPS solutions because of the power situation in 2008, they may not have taken capacity growth into consideration, which could mean that during future power problems the system will fail without warning.
As an example, organisations may have invested in generator systems in 2008, and since that time have purchased extra equipment, more powerful computers and even upgraded UPS systems, all of which put extra load onto the generator when it is in use.
If organisations did not take growth into consideration with their initial purchase, the reality is that the generator capacity may no longer be able to withstand the required load.
When the time comes for the generator to kick in, if the load exceeds capacity the generator will simply fail, leaving organisations open to data loss and corruption, equipment damage and lost productivity.
When purchasing any sort of power backup system, whether UPS or generator, it is important to consider the growth an organisation may experience in the future, and not buy to suit the current need.
While it is difficult to get a completely accurate prediction of where a company may be in five years time, as a general rule it is advisable to upsize the equipment by at least 25%.
Buying equipment for current needs may be appealing to cut current budgets, but in truth this could end up costing a lot more in the future, should capacity run out and data and equipment needs to be replaced following system failure during a power outage.
When purchasing a UPS it is also important not to size using the standard VA rating given to these devices, as this represents assumed power rather than actual power.
While devices from different vendors may have the same assumed power, the actual power output can differ considerably from product to product, and the actual wattage output of the device is a more accurate measure of its capacity.
This wattage is written on the packaging of the device, and can be used to get an accurate determination of which device will suit the needs of a business now, with an added buffer for future growth.
With the ongoing power problems expected to continue in South Africa for the foreseeable future, a UPS is a vital piece of business equipment that needs to be kept current and up to date.
Even when power supply is available it is subject to surges and spikes, which can cause data loss and damage to equipment.
A UPS with an automatic voltage regulator that can provide battery backup, complemented by a generator that can handle the required capacity, are the key to maintaining business productivity during power problems.