Baseline Knowledge Articles

Surge Protection and Uniniteruptable Power Supplies
Ontario’s electricity system functions at the highest level of reliability and productivity.  However, Ontario experiences a variety of extreme weather events that inevitably play havoc with the electricity supply and therefore business continuity.  Most electrical disruptions are tolerated by computers or electronic systems.  Power supply fluctuation can result in data loss, service interruptions and even material damages.  For example, if the power supply drops while you write to a hard drive, the outcome is often disastrous.  Alternatively, in the event of a power spike the computer hardware may become permanently damaged.

There are various common power problems that are a concern to today’s electronics:

  • power failure
  • voltage spike
  • under-voltage (brownout)
  • dirty power (inconsistent power levels)

Solutions for an office should include at minimum surge protectors and/or an uninterruptible power supplies.

A surge protector (or surge suppressor/arrester) is a device designed to protect electrical equipment from voltage spikes.  A surge protector attempts to regulate the voltage supplied to an electric device by either blocking or by shorting to ground voltages above a safe threshold.

Many power bars have surge protection built in; these are typically clearly labeled. However, sometimes power bars that do not provide surge protection are erroneously referred to as surge protectors.  The following discusses terminology relating to the features of power bars

Many power bars have surge protection built in; these are typically clearly labeled. However, sometimes power bars that do not provide surge protection are erroneously referred to as surge protectors.  The following discusses terminology relating to the features of power bars.

An often overlooked source of transient power problems to electronic equipment is data lines, including telephone and network lines, coax cables, and more.  Data lines have a tendency to carry only low voltage levels, but they are made of a conductive material and are subject to the same power problems that other conductive lines may experience.  These power problems can originate from a wide variety of sources, including static charge buildup and lightning strikes.  Left unprotected, your data lines expose network cards, A/V components, modems and other network equipment to damaging power problems. (3)

An uninterruptible power supply (UPS), also known as a battery back-up, provides emergency power when utility power is not available.  Many UPS also provide surge protectors and are clearly labeled.  A UPS differs from an auxiliary or emergency power system or standby generator, which do not provide instant protection from a momentary power interruption or protection from dirty power.  A UPS, however, can be used to provide uninterrupted power to equipment, typically for 5 to 15 minutes, until an auxiliary power supply can be turned on, utility power restored or equipment safely shut down.  A UPS not only gives you battery backup for a limited time, but also protects you from power fluctuations, surges and brownouts. Depending on the vendor and the features set on your UPS/computer, you can automatically shut down all the computers connected to a UPS, if a power-outage occurs. (4)

While not limited to safeguarding any particular type of equipment, a surge protector and/or a UPS is typically used to protect expensive electronics, computers/servers, telecommunication/networking equipment, to assist in business continuity and to reduce the risk of data loss.

There is a wide range of UPS and/or surge protector options ready to meet your business needs.  If you have any questions or would like to discuss a protection plan for your business we would be happy to help.

 

(1) IEEE Power & Energy Society Surge Protective Device Committee. "Terms Glossary: Clamping Voltage".
(2) IEEE Power & Energy Society Surge Protective Device Committe. "Terms Glossary: Response Time".
(3) Grounding and Shielding Audio Devices.  Steve Macatee, Rane Corporation
(4) UPS of the front line - Plant Engineering, February 2007