(updated 12/16/2012)

Why you should have surge protection...

Information provided by : APC

Protect yourself with an adequate surge protection power bar or UPS (uninterruptible power supply) device. Make sure you have protection on the phone and TV cable lines in to your computer also. Choose your device according to your value of both your data and your actual machine, including all external devices. Don't underestimate the value of either, and don't think that "living in the city" means constant clean power. Read on...

The Problem With the Electrical Power Supply

There are two unfortunate realities of the electronics age; the utility simply cannot provide the clean, consistent power demanded by sensitive electronics, and the customer is ultimately responsible for the health and safe operation of his equipment.

A study by IBM has showed that a typical computer is subject to more than 120 power problems per month. The effects of power problems range from the subtle keyboard lockups, hardware degradation to the dramatic complete data loss or burnt motherboards. According to a survey by the Yankee Group, almost half of the corporations researched put their downtime costs at upwards of $1,000 per hour, with nine percent estimating costs up to or more than $50,000 per hour.

Clearly, businesses are becoming more and more reliant on a utility power supply that is pushed beyond its capacity. Despite advances in the capabilities of modern personal computers, a momentary power outage is still all it takes to lose your data. More dangerous is the loss of previously written files, or even an entire hard disk, which can occur should a power problem strike while your computer is saving a file. Network fileservers constantly writing to disk are particularly susceptible.

Unfortunately the situation won't be getting better anytime soon. It takes approximately a decade to get a new power plant on-line, and concerns about nuclear power and fossil fuels have stifled the construction of new generating facilities. In the United States, for instance, spending on utilities has dropped from 2.3% of the Gross National Product in the 1960's to less than 1% today.

It's been said that there are two types of computer users: those who have lost data because of a power problem, and those who are going to. Over the past few years, we've helped create a new class... those who have recognized the need for protection and taken steps to ensure that they're prepared for the inevitable.

Power problems are the largest cause of data loss

Power Failure/Surge: 45.3%

Storm Damage: 9.4%

Fire or Explosion: 8.2%

Hardware/Software Error: 8.2%

Flood & Water Damage: 6.7%

Earthquake: 5.5%

Network Outage: 4.5%

Human Error/Sabotage: 3.2%

HVAC Failure: 2.3%

Other 6.7%

Source: Contingency Planning

The Anatomy of a Power Disturbance...

Surges, spikes, blackouts and brownouts...what really happens to your computer when it experiences an out-of-bounds power anomaly? We'll use a nearby lightning strike as an example, although it is just one of countless problems that can strike your system.

Lightning strikes a nearby transformer. If the surge is powerful enough, it travels instantaneously through wiring, network, serial and phone lines and more, with the electrical equivalent force of a tidal wave. The surge travels into your computer via the outlet or phone lines. The first casualty is usually a modem or motherboard. Chips go next, and data is lost.

The utility responds to overvoltages by disconnecting the grid. This creates brownouts and blackouts. If the voltage drops low enough, or blacks out, the hard disk may crash, destroying the data stored on the disk. In all cases, work-in- process stored in cache is instantly lost. In the worst case, password protection on the hard drive can be jumbled, or the file allocation table may be upset, rendering the hard disk useless.

Sags: Also known as brownouts, sags are short term decreases in voltage levels. This is the most common power problem, accounting for 87% of all power disturbances according to a study by Bell Labs.

CAUSE - Sags are usually caused by the start-up power demands of many electrical devices (including motors, compressors, elevators, shop tools, etc.) Electric companies use sags to cope with extraordinary power demands. In a procedure known as "rolling brownouts", the utility will systematically lower voltage levels in certain areas for hours or days at a time. Hot Summer days, when air conditioning requirements are at their peak, will often prompt rolling brownouts.

EFFECT - A sag can "starve" a computer of the power it needs to function, and cause frozen keyboards and unexpected system crashes which both result in lost or corrupted data. Sags also reduce the efficiency and life span of electrical equipment, particularly motors.

Blackout: Total loss of utility power.

CAUSE - Blackouts are caused by excessive demand on the power grid, lightning storms, ice on power lines, car accidents, backhoes, earthquakes and other catastrophies.

EFFECT - Current work in RAM or cache is lost. The hard drive File Allocation Table (FAT) may also be lost, which results in total loss of data stored on drive.

Spike: Also referred to as an impulse, a spike is an instantaneous, dramatic increase in voltage. Akin to the force of a tidal wave, a spike can enter electronic equipment through AC, network, serial or phone lines and damage or completely destroy components.

CAUSE - Spikes are typically caused by a nearby lightning strike. Spikes can also occur when utility power comes back on line after having been knocked out in a storm or as the result of a car accident.

EFFECT - Catastrophic damage to hardware occurs. Data will be lost.

Surge: A short term increase in voltage, typically lasting at least 1/120 of a second.

CAUSE - Surges result from presence of high-powered electrical motors, such as air conditioners, and household appliances in the vicinity. When this equipment is switched off, the extra voltage is dissipated through the power line.

EFFECT - Computers and similar sensitive electronic devices are designed to receive power within a certain voltage range. Anything outside of expected peak and RMS (considered the "average" voltage) levels will stress delicate components and cause premature failure.


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