A Simple but Costly Mistake : Part 1

By Steve McEvoy, Technology Consultant

Is Your UPS Connected Right?
If you have a ‘Server’ in your Practice (a computer that holds all your precious data), it’s probably protected by a device called an Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS).  The UPS’s job is to keep the Server running for a short period of time in the event of a power failure.  They are essentially a small battery pack.  Servers shouldn’t just be switched off in a power failure else you run the risk of corrupting data that was in use at the time (like your Management software that runs your Practice).  You could even corrupt the entire Server operating system leaving it unusable.  A properly installed and configured UPS is your protection against this corruption.   I say ‘properly installed and configured’ because in many offices this is not the case.  Here are the issues that you should check on for your Practice.

Beware of Surge Only Ports
Some models of UPS’s have a combination of Battery protected outlets and Surge protected outlets, and this is where the problems arise.  UPS’s are surge protectors as well as battery backup protection.  In some units the manufactures might provide 3 outlets on the back with full surge and battery protection, and then 3 additional ports with just surge protection (to use for less important peripherals such as a monitor).  These ‘Surge Only’ ports are the problem I want to warn you of.  It’s a simple enough mistake to not realize these ports don’t have the desired battery protection for your Server as you’d expect, and to accidentally plug your Server into one of them.  In a power failure, your Server will slam off risking the corruption you sought to avoid.  The solution is simple:  Check to see if your UPS has a mix of ports, and if so, verify that your Server is plugged into one of the battery protected outlets.  The manufacturer usually clearly labels the ports for you to see.

Figure 1 – Example of UPS with several Surge Only ports.  Notice they are clearly labeled

Don’t Forget the Communication Cable
In the event of a power failure, the UPS can only keep the Server running for some small amount of time (usually 5 to 20 minutes).  Larger UPS’s can run longer (perhaps an hour), but eventually they will run out of battery reserves and shutoff.  To avoid slamming off the Server most UPS’s have a communication cable that can be hooked to the Server (typically via USB) and allow it to ‘tell’ the Server when it’s about to turn the power off.  The Server typically has a small program from the manufacturer installed that is used to ‘hear’ this message from the UPS, and when it does begin an ‘orderly shutdown’ of the Server, essentially the same process as you walking up to the Server and clicking on Shutdown.  Some people think “I can just go shutdown the Server myself if the power fails”, but what about if the failure occurs at night time, or while you are at lunch, etc.?  I see setups all the time where the UPS is installed and the critical cable and/or software aren’t.  Without them, you are just delaying the power failure for a few minutes and the corruption can occur.   Check that your UPS is setup to communicate with your Server properly.

To be continued …
In Part 2 of this article we’ll discuss two more important aspects of your UPS system that are essential to check.

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