How does a UPS work?

What happens if your power goes off? Do all your computers and networking hardware suddenly stop working? This could be disastrous for your business, considering how suddenly a power cut can occur. And this is where a UPS comes in. But how does a UPS work?

How does a UPS work? Your computer runs off of the normal utility power. If a problem is detected with the standard power supply, the UPS almost instantly activates a power inverter and powers the device using the UPS battery.

With a UPS, you can ensure that your operations don’t grind to a sudden halt if you have a power outage or the voltage drops to an unacceptable level. In this blog post, we will talk more about what a UPS is as well as a more technical look at how they work. At the end, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using UPSs.

What is a UPS?

UPS stands for Uninterruptible Power Supply. A UPS is a device that keeps a computer or piece of hardware running for a period of time if one of the following occurs:

  • The main power source fails
  • The voltage drops to an unacceptable level

Furthermore, a UPS can protect devices against power surges. Power surges and voltage spikes can damage electronics, rendering circuitry useless. A UPS can regulate voltage and prevent any surges and spikes from affecting your hardware.

A UPS contains a battery which is activated should the UPS detects a loss of power. A UPS isn’t designed to keep you working for a long time should you lose your main power source. In fact, some uninterruptible power supplies will only keep your devices powered for a matter of minutes or hours.

A UPS provides near-instantaneous protection from power interruptions. The UPS battery starts providing power to your devices within milliseconds of your main power source failing. While the battery run-time is relatively short on most uninterruptible power supplies, it gives you enough time to properly shut down your equipment and ensure that all data is safe.

A UPS can be used to protect a variety of hardware, from data centres to telecommunication equipment. If power disruption could cause serious business disruption or data loss, you must use uninterruptible power supplies. In the case of a power loss, you can make sure that you can quickly enact your emergency plan, save all of your information, and commence your plan for how you handle these situations. In some cases, this could be moving over to remote working. Alternatively, you might ensure all your hardware is shut down suitably and all data protected before waiting out the power loss.

There are numerous types of UPS, falling into three distinct categories:

  • Offline/Standby UPS: A standby UPS is essentially an idle device until it is needed. When the main power source (the wall socket supply) is functioning as usual, the offline UPS does nothing. The supply simply flows through it and that’s it. Within 5 milliseconds of a power disturbance being detected, the standby UPS switches over to the battery backup. Offline/Standby UPSs are usually a cost-effective option, but not ideal for some situations. Although up to 5 milliseconds isn’t too long to be without power, it is problematic in critical applications where even the slightest risk of data loss is unacceptable.
  • Hybrid/Line-interactive UPS: The line-interactive UPS is more advanced than a standby UPS. It has technology that the more cost-effective type of UPS doesn’t have. For example, a line-interactive UPS has technology that enables it to correct power fluctuations without switching over to the backup battery. An offline UPS isn’t capable of dealing with fluctuations; it will automatically switch over to the backup battery within milliseconds of any under- and over-voltages.
  • Online UPS: An online UPS is the most advanced type of UPS and is used in scenarios where even a few milliseconds of power loss could spell disaster. An online UPS constantly filters and delivers electrical flow to your hardware, even when the power source going into it isn’t suffering any outages. There’s no interruption at all, even when there is a power loss. For businesses where power outages, even those lasting milliseconds, would be disastrous, an online UPS is needed.

Next, let’s have a look at where UPSs would be used and why.

Where are UPSs used and why?

You might wonder where uninterruptible power supplies are used and why, perhaps to determine whether you need to invest in them or not. Here are some examples of where uninterruptible power supplies are used and why.

Business computers

UPSs may be used as a backup power source for business computers. If a power cut is experienced, using uninterruptible power supplies could be beneficial in numerous ways:

  • Prevent any data being lost
  • Prevent possible damage to the machinery from a sudden shutdown
  • Prevent power surges and voltage slumps from damaging computers

A power outage can cause a lot of problems. It could lead to you losing data in numerous ways. First and foremost, your employees might not have saved their work for a while. Secondly, files can be corrupted if there’s a sudden loss of power

Networking equipment

Uninterruptible power supplies might be connected to networking equipment to prevent power failure rendering it inoperable. For example, you will often find that UPS devices are connected to all of the following:

  • Servers
  • Routers
  • Modems
  • Switches

All of the above are expensive pieces of hardware that need to be protected. They’re also pieces of hardware that you must shut down in the right way, rather than the way they’d shut down in the case of a sudden outage.

Telephony equipment

Businesses often connect UPS devices to their telephony equipment. The main benefit of this is that you don’t immediately lose your office telephone system if there is a power failure.

A UPS gives you time to make some essential calls which you might be unable to do otherwise. If you need to shut down your equipment properly before leaving the office, it also gives you the time to do this.

Advantages and disadvantages of UPS devices

There are of course several advantages of using uninterruptible power supplies.

  • No or little delay between switching power sources
  • Protection against damaging power interruptions
  • Filtered supply to prevent abnormalities

And there are some disadvantages also.

  • Can be expensive
  • Battery typically doesn’t last long

Advantages of UPS devices

  • No or little delay between switching power sources: With a UPS, there is little or no delay when switching power sources. With cheaper offline/standby UPS devices, the delay when switching between power sources is usually around 5 milliseconds. With online UPS devices, there is no delay at all because of how they regulate power to your devices.
  • Protection against damaging power interruptions: If you connect your devices to uninterruptible power supplies, they are protected against surges, spikes, dips, and power failure. Depending on the type of UPS you use, the UPS itself can regulate the flow or it can switch you over to an alternate power source to prevent damage.
  • Filtered supply to prevent abnormalities: A UPS can filter the supply, ironing out any abnormalities, to ensure your devices receive a clean and consistent supply of electricity. As the power enters the UPS, it can adjust its output to avoid potential damage to your systems.

Disadvantages of UPS devices

  • Can be expensive: UPS devices can be very expensive, depending on the type that you choose. While they perform an essential function in some environments, there’s no point purchasing uninterruptible power supplies unless you really need them.
  • Battery typically doesn’t last long: A UPS isn’t a long-term solution. In fact, UPS batteries can typically power your device for anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours. Most uninterruptible power supplies are intended to give you just enough time to properly shut down your equipment to avoid any damage to it. Beyond that, they don’t offer much more.

Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell has been the Operations manager at telecoms and MSP Optionbox for more than 4 years. He has played a crucial role in the company, from marketing to helpdesk, and ensures that the IT requirements of over 300 clients are continuously met. With his innate passion for technology and troubleshooting and a particular interest in Apple products, Jack now delivers the most comprehensive tech guides to make your life easier. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

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