APC - The Problem with Power

The Problem With Power


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.

Power Problem

Sags, surges, noise, spikes, blackouts. What really happens to connected devices when they experience a power anomaly? A lightning strike is a frequent example, although it is just one of countless problems that can strike your equipment.

Imagine lightning has just struck a nearby transformer. If the surge was powerful enough, it travelled instantaneously through wiring (AC, network, serial, phone lines and more) with the electrical equivalent force of a tidal wave. For PC users, the surge could have travelled into your computer via the AC outlet or phone lines. The first casualty is usually a modem or motherboard. Chips go next, and data is lost

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

Here are a few statistics that quantify the true costs of systems downtime: 

Power Failure/Surge: 45.3% Power Problem
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%
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.

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.