Western Cape Business News

Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  20 Dec 2009

POWER SUPPLY: How To Charge UP Your Business


Recent Western Cape Business News

LAST year’s Eskom power crisis brought businesses to their knees, especially in the SME space. As a result, many small businesses and corporates alike realised the importance of correct power management and back-up power supply.

The question one should be asking (while the lights are still on) is which office systems are mission-critical? Which equipment is the lifeblood of your company; your means of connecting with the outside world and actually doing business? If you haven’t done this type of emergency energy audit yet, Gary Jameson, country manager: South Africa, Eaton Power Quality, suggests you make it a priority.

There are a number of uses UPSes will and won’t provide.

An Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) is able to, at the very least, keep you powered up for long enough to save your work and shutdown. Having a UPS in the office can make all the difference between ‘business as usual’ and no business at all.

Jameson explains while UPSes are already working their magic throughout electricity-challenged South Africa, there are certain things one needs to know before investing in one. “Sadly, a UPS won’t be able to make you coffee. It can, however, keep your PC and equipment powered up and protected – enabling you to continue doing what you’re doing during a power cut.”

Working off their own batteries, UPSes offer an alternative source of power that automatically kicks in as soon as the power goes out. This makes them invaluable in an office, even when powered by a generator, as they bridge that gap between the power going out and the generator starting up during which you could lose any unsaved data.

That being said, there are a few things you need to think about before you go out shopping for a UPS. Jameson suggests you consider the following:

Look at what your equipment will have to do during a power outage – everything from connect to the Internet to how many programmes it will need to run. You then need to consider what devices you need to keep powered up. The size of the UPS you require will be directly proportional to the amount of equipment you need to keep functional.

When you’ve decided on the equipment you need to keep up and running, add up its collective wattage (this is usually printed/attached on a sticker on the back of or under the machine). There is a very nifty tool on the Eaton Power Quality website ( called the ‘UPS Selector’ which will enable you to access information specific UPSes for your needs.

Once you’ve researched the options available to you, there are a number of other factors you need to take into consideration. The longer the back-up time on your UPS, the longer it will take you to recharge its batteries. Instead of getting one large UPS, it might thus be more practical to split your load onto two smaller ones. One should also take the lifespan of your UPS’s batteries into consideration, remembering that the average UPS is currently doing a lot more work than it used to. With 80% of the cost of the UPS relating to its batteries, you need to budget accordingly.

Think carefully about the size of the UPS you require. While most of the smaller offerings are ‘plug and play’ devices, the higher-end models - above 3kVA - will need to be hardwired into your system. This means you’ll need to get an electrician involved. In this case, it might once again pay you to rather split your load over a number of smaller devices,” Jameson says.

The good news for first time buyers is that selecting the right UPS is probably the most challenging part of the exercise. Beyond that, it’s simply a case of plugging in – and staying powered up.

The average electrical usage of a typical small business setup with 10 users ranges in the region of 7000 Volt Amps (VA):

10 office PCs (5000 VA)

10 17” LCD monitors (600 VA)

3 multifunction printers (300 VA)

1 departmental server (850 VA).

This setup would typically need to run two or three UPSes depending on future expansion requirements. Products such as the Evolutions S (2500VA), from Eaton Power Quality, would be perfect for this sort of setup. These UPSes will allow one up to an hour of runtime if the lights go out. This means you can safely shut down and save all necessary information without the fear of losing it to a power outage. One would need at least two of theses UPSes to effectively keep the power going. Although these products would fit this system perfectly, bear in mind this is the high-end of a power management setup.

A suggestion, especially in the current economy, is to only power up the systems that are critical to the operations of the business, namely the servers and office computers. In this case one would only need one of the Evolution S UPSes, as this would be sufficient to run these systems for at least one hour. If the server is the only system that is critical in a business – as many SME’s work off laptops due to the increased need for mobility – then an even smaller UPS would be needed.

The options available are endless and suitable to any size business. The importance of effective power management should be top of mind for every business owner. Why open your business up to the risk of data loss as well as the work hours wasted when staff cannot do their jobs productively?” says Jameson.

Perhaps the most important thing you need to know about a UPS , is that its main function is not surge protection. While this is a feature, what it means in practice is that the surge will be absorbed by the UPS – damaging it instead of your PC. This sort of damage is not usually covered by the warranty. Jameson recommends buying a separate surge protection unit or plug for the UPS as these are far cheaper to replace.

As for a UPS’s best feature? They are surprisingly affordable, especially when you weigh up the cost of life without one. While most people are investing in and singing the praises of ‘the generator’, what they probably haven’t told you about having a generator is that they don’t always have an automatic start-up. Someone may need to find the office torch, trudge downstairs and crank up the generator.”

While you’re all upstairs twiddling your thumbs, your equipment will be without power – and you’re back to square one as far as your data is concerned. That’s of course before the generator zaps your machine with a surge of unregulated power. In this type of scenario, a UPS and surge protector plug fills the gap. The UPS supplies power to your critical systems before the generator kicks in, and will regulate the power supply thereafter,” Jameson says.

So, what are you waiting for? While there’s still power in your office, look around and identify which systems are mission-critical. Make a list of these and contact your nearest UPS supplier.

The good news for first-time buyers is that selecting the right UPS is probably the most challenging part of the exercise. Beyond that, it’s simply a case of plugging in and staying powered up. The cost of the right UPS remains dependent on your business needs and you can expect to pay between R1 000 and R40 000 for the ideal SME solution, according to Jameson.

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