If you live in an area with always-on and stable electricity, and you had a qualified electrician to do your wiring then this article is not for you! Go read something else.
Unfortunately, for most of us (especially the people who live in developing countries) we get frequent black-outs (lost of power), spikes (sudden burst of high voltage), brown-outs (intermittent low voltage) and electricians that work only with duct tape and a pair of pliers. Under these conditions, protecting your computer systems and safeguarding your data can sometimes be a challenge. Often users are face with cost either way (the cost for proper protection or the cost for equipment replacement).
In this article, I will outline the steps you can take to ensure that your computer systems are properly protected against the effects of irregular electricity.
Step 1. Be Grounded
Power cords for computer systems has three pins (live, neutral and ground). A high number of times we have visited sites where the power circuits provided no grounding. What is even worse is that in some cases the “earth” pin was removed from the power cord to facilitate the configuration of the available power outlet (sometimes a drop cord).
You should ensure that the circuits for your computer systems are properly grounded. Your (qualified) electrician can quickly detect if a circuit is grounded correctly.
Step 2. Polarity Check
Figure 1 shows the configuration of live, neutral and ground on a standard American Duplex power outlet. It is important that the wires are done correctly to ensure that the correct polarity corresponds to the configuration on the power outlet.
We have seen cases where the live and the neutral were (accidentally) swapped. When this happens, your equipment will still appear to functions normally but can develop problems over time.
Step 3. Stabilize Your Power
It might be a good idea to get a power stabilizer to help combat voltage fluctuation. These units provide the benefit of being able to maintain your voltage at a constant and safe rate in situations of oscillation. It will help your equipment to run much smoother and it reduces the effects of fluctuating power.
Give us a call and we will be able to tell you over the phone what kind of power stabilizer you will need.
Step 4. Backup Power
When the power goes, it can take your data with it. Many times we are called in to retrieve data and restore systems that were hit by a sudden lost of electricity. Most of the times computer systems are not able to startup because of a recent blackout.
I cannot ever over emphasize how important it is to have an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). Sometimes it is called a battery backup or backup battery. Backup batteries give you that extra time after you get a blackout to save your work and to gracefully shutdown your computer. The battery time can run from 5 minutes (small batteries – less costly) to over 4 hours (large batteries – costly).
On my main development machine I have an APC Back-UPS PRO 1500 with a Back-UPS Battery Pack and this gives me up to 130 minutes run-time after a blackout.
Some UPS systems allow cold start, this is where you are able to start your system and run on the run-time power from the unit. These are good in cases when you require to power on briefly to email something important or to grab some files from the computer. A few models have built in automatic voltage regulation systems (AVR) that does voltage stabilization.
The APC line of UPS are the most trusted and the warranty services are great.
The steps outlined should be followed in the order as presented. I have seen cases where clients missed step one and/or step 2 and this resulted in damaged equipment. It is always necessary to get a professional to check your power source (also let him/her know what to check for – as outlined in step 1 and step 2).
You can get a UPS that has a built-in stabilizer, usually this cost will be lower than to get the components separately.
Let us hear from you, you can provide your comments and feed-back below.
– Girendra Persaud (November 2012)
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