Small businesses face the same IT challenges and frustrations as their larger counterparts, yet they don’t have the resources a larger organisation may have to resolve these issues, says Elrica Quick, APC specialist at Drive Control Corporation (DCC). 
When it comes to vital protection of equipment, an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) should be on the top of the list. The technology is not difficult to understand or implement, and the cost is negligible compared to losing or damaging equipment, or possible data loss due to power failures, surges and dips.
The primary role of a UPS is to protect equipment from power dips and surges, and to give the user or equipment enough time (typically five to 10 minutes) to save their work and conduct a safe shut down of the equipment. However, depending on the company or user’s requirements, a UPS can be selected that provides more uptime to complete a task before a safe shutdown is done.
As user requirements differ, there are key technologies and features to look out for when selecting a UPS.
There are typically three types of UPSes for the SOHO market:
A backup UPS is designed for PCs and small entry level equipment. Depending on the UPS size, it can typically handle loads from 325VA to 1500VA typically. To put this in context, a laptop or single desktop’s power consumption is approximately 150 – 250 Watts, so a 1500VA (1050W) UPS could provide backup and protection for up to seven PCs.
A line interactive UPS ranges between 750VA and 5kVA. These UPSes are typically used on entry level servers and PCs.
The next range of UPSes are online UPSes – these units are true online and are typically used for sensitive equipment like high-end servers and small data centres, but not restricted to this alone. These units range between 1kVA to 10kVA on single phase applications.
It’s relatively easy to determine what capacity UPS is needed. Simply turn over the equipment and look at the power usage (wattage on the devices users would like to connect the UPS). Add this up and users have the load that they would like to connect to the UPS.
Look for a UPS that can sustain the load. Of course there are some devices users may not want to connect to a UPS. For example, a laser printer draws so much power on start-up it will overload the UPS.
Similarly there are limits to how much time users can add onto a UPS. To obtain maximum uptime where the load is approximately 30% of total capacity – a load of 300VA on a 1kVA UPS would offer maximum uptime.
There are other considerations, however. One of the advantages of a UPS is the surge protection it offers. This is the responsibility of the automatic voltage regulator (AVR) built into every UPS. The AVR corrects low and high voltages to safe levels.
Other features to look out for include: audible and visual signals and alarms to provide notification of changing utility power and UPS conditions; manual or automatic self-testing functionality; safety agency approval (such as SABS rating); and ease of use – plug and play.
The bottom line: given the benefits of using a UPS, the reasonable cost and low technology demands, can users afford not to have a UPS protecting their equipment and data?