If there is one thing I teach my QuickBooks clients, no matter what service I provide, it is this simple fact: “if you are going to run QuickBooks you need power protection in the form of an Uninterruptable Power Supply.” Of course I am talking about your server, your workstations, and all of your connecting network equipment. Cheap power strips might provide some degree of power surge protection, but they do nothing to help when the power goes out and your system comes crashing to a halt.
A sudden loss of power and power surges are two of the most common causes of damage to your computers and other electronic equipment. In order to protect computers and other electronic equipment against power surges AND power interruptions you need an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS), sometimes referred to as a ‘battery backup’. A UPS provides a buffer against power interruptions ranging from minutes to hours depending on the functional rating of your UPS and the power demands of your computer (or other equipment).
Even small UPS units provide a window of time where your computer can be shut down properly and then started back once the power outage is resolved. If the situation is resolved while the UPS still has sufficient battery life then you can continue working right through the black-out without interruption. Many of these UPS units will protect your computer (or other equipment) even when nobody is in attendance because the UPS communicates with your computer via a USB connection, and is enabled with software that allows the UPS to shut your computer down properly in your absence.
You can find UPS units that range from desktop models that supply sufficient power to keep a typical desktop computer running for 10 or so minutes, all the way up to ‘UPS integrated emergency generators’ deployed to keep Data Center servers running for days. This means it is possible to spend anywhere from $50-60 for a low-end UPS to tens-of-thousands of dollars for UPS emergency generator units.
The most important step in UPS selection is to chart out your power requirements before you break out the checkbook. In addition to servers and workstation computers, most businesses have other electronic devices that need to be protected from power outages. As I mentioned you, most likely have network components like a cable or DSL modem, a router, perhaps a Wi-Fi node (hopefully not used for QuickBooks networks) and switches or hubs that you must protect from power loss if you are to stay up and running.
What size UPS is right for you? At the bare minimum you need enough power in your UPS unit to give your computer system adequate time to shut down properly. That’s the absolute acceptable minimum. If your UPS unit doesn’t have enough power to provide for the system from the moment the power cuts out until the moment it has successfully shut down, you’re risking damage to the machine and data loss.
You need to calculate the power needs of your system and system components. All of your equipment from computers to hubs will have specifications advising you as to their wattage requirements. Use the highest power demand (requirements) rating that the equipment specifications lists. This will provide you with an extra ‘cushion’ since most equipment is pulling well less than the maximum load. Most equipment specifications will give you the ‘wattage’ requirements, so you will still need to convert the wattage requirements to Volt-Amperes. Volt-Amperes are the standard measurement used to describe the capacity of UPS units.
The rule of thumb is to multiply the wattage load by 1.6 in order to get the Volt-Amperes UPS Supply requirements. For example a 200 w requirements = 320 VA, 400 w requirements = 640 VA and 1000 w requirements = 1600 VA.
How long will that run your computer? Unfortunately there isn’t a one-size fits all calculation rule for determining the run time. In order to calculate the estimated run time of a UPS you need to know the VA rating of the UPS, the number of battery cells in the UPS, the DV voltage rating of those batteries, and the Ampere-Hours (capacity) of the batteries. The problem is that it is usually difficult to find this information out about the UPS you are considering. We could go through an elaborate formula to help you compute the value, there is a much easier way in my mind. You see it is far easier and quicker to use manufacturer’s estimate tables in which you plug in your computer and hardware requirements, and let their UPS calculators do the work for you. Each of the major manufacturers has this type of calculator, but rather than give you just a list of companies, I am going to go ahead and give you some specific products you can look at as well (in alphabetical listing, by differing power ratings, in no particular ranking).
APC Back-UPS 450VA
APC Back-UPS ESBE750G
Tripp Lite INTERNET350U
Tripp Lite Smart1500LCDT
We could spend hours, and hundreds of unnecessary words, repeating hype about which brand is best, or which model outperforms another, and which models have the best cost-benefit ratio, etc. I will say that usually there is very little fundamental differences between brands/models when they have the same ‘ratings’. The things that make up the cost differences between models other than rating are the features. A basic UPS will be $50-100 dollars cheaper than a ‘smart style’ UPS that can shut down your computer in unattended mode. Display vs. LED indicators, number of UPS vs. Surge-protection only outlets, and many other features also enter into the cost factors.
In my personal shop we always use APC equipment. Take that with a grain of salt. They tend to be easier to find, and cheaper to purchase here in Oklahoma, the same may not be said in your neck of the woods.
One last word about your UPS. Most people plug them in and think, “that’s it, I’m protected now.” The next time they think about their UPS is when the power goes off and so does their computer, despite being plugged into a UPS. Of course the reason is that the UPS has a dead battery. Smart models tend to test themselves (almost all the time or so it seems to me in a lot of cases) but non-smart models need you to perform regular testing. Batteries do go bad typically within 2 years if not sooner. What I have found is that it is almost as cheap to buy a whole ‘new unit’ as it is to purchase replacement batteries. What do you then do with the old UPS (give it to a charity and let them buy the battery).
Best of luck on your next UPS shopping spree.