We've all seen movies where huge sparks fly out of computers, frying the hardware, and destroying data. While much of that is for dramatic effect, power outages DO pose a threat to your IT.
It comes in two forms: Data Loss from a sudden loss of power, and Component Burnout from power surges.
Let's detail how these two circumstances occur, as well as the kinds of damage they can inflict on your business' IT systems. Then we'll cover the best ways to protect your IT and your data before the next power outage hits.
What Happens to Your IT During a Power Outage
An outage may seem harmless. The computer just powers down, right? You turn it back on when the power's up and everything's fine.
No, not quite. There are two concerns surrounding any power outage.
Concern #1: Data Loss/Corruption
Computers (and servers) run processes constantly. Without power, all those processes suddenly stop. This can hurt one element in particular: the data you're working on.
How it happens: You're doing your work. While you work, your computer saves data to its hard drive; a process called "disk writing."
Then the power goes out.
The computer hadn't finished writing data. Now it has lost the data, and isn't even on anymore. This sort of "interrupted" write can damage the hard drive. You may lose the most recent file you're working on.
That's frustrating enough, but now think about your servers. They're constantly writing data—activity logs, communications, website requests, etc. If all of that cuts off, how much of any server's data can get corrupted? Answer: A lot of it!
We encountered a serious case of post-power outage data corruption the other day. The customer had taken precautions, but those precautions fell through. We'll come back to that.
First, let's talk about the other concern in a power outage—a surge in voltage when the power comes back on.
Concern #2: Power Surge
When power comes back on, the computer has a new problem. This one happens in an instant, but can cause Component Burnout (lasting damage).
Sudden power restoration can cause a spike in the power's voltage. Think of turning on a garden hose while you're holding it. Suddenly you get blasted in the face by water!
Too much voltage inside a computer, even for an instant, can damage its components. Frying little circuits. Effectively killing the computer.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Your IT from Power Outage/Surge Damage
"But I use a power strip!"
Does the power strip include a surge protector? If so, good! You do have some protection from both of these problems.
If not, your computer could experience a sudden and rather permanent shutdown. Not all power strips include surge protection. Never buy a power strip that doesn't have one built-in.
But there's a better option to protect IT hardware: the Uninterruptible Power Supply, or UPS.
A UPS is essentially a big battery. It sits between your IT and the power outlet. Slowly, over time, the UPS battery charges from the power outlet. When an outage occurs, the UPS kicks on and continues to provide power.
Business-quality UPS units can provide up to one hour of power for multiple servers and computers. However, this is an emergency measure only. Extra power allows you to avoid data corruption, and stops a power surge from damaging components.
When the UPS is in good working order.
Remember the customer we mentioned earlier? They had installed UPS units in their server room and office floors. When a power outage hit, they thought everything would be fine.
For the most part it was. However, one of the UPS units had languished in a dusty closet, unchecked for months. It had failed some time before the outage, causing over a dozen PCs to crash when the outage hit.
The other UPS units did their job, protecting servers and networking equipment. But several users lost data, and one computer died completely.
Outage Procedures for IT Equipment
When a power outage hits, you have two responsibilities: preserve existing data, and protect against power surges when the power comes back on.
This procedure will help you achieve both outcomes:
- Check your office for power outage vulnerability. Have an electrician test the power outlets and circuit breaker. If any can't sustain a power surge, replace them.
- Deploy UPS units for critical servers, networking equipment (routers/switches), and PCs.
- When an outage happens, save all open files.
- Notify customers via email of the outage and expected restoration time.
- Shut down PCs, then servers, and then networking equipment.
- Unplug all IT systems connected to power.
- If you experience a prolonged shortage, post an update on your website with details.
- When power comes back, turn networking equipment on first. Then servers, and then PCs.
- Test Internet access on all systems.
- Notify customers of power restoration.
Power Outages Can Hurt Computers, Servers, and Networking Equipment. Protect Them All.
Don't forget about the networking equipment inside your office—Wi-Fi routers, cabling, switches, etc. They need protection from power outages & surges too. Fortunately, UPS units and surge protectors work just as well for them.
Keep in mind: If the local power company schedules an outage, prepare ahead of time. Shut down all computers, switches, servers, and firewalls a few minutes prior to the outage. Don’t turn anything back on until the power company gives the all-clear. Crisis averted.
If the outage is unscheduled (as most are), shut down all IT systems as soon as possible. You may get an all-clear from the power company, but you may not. If not, watch your UPS. As soon as a UPS gets power back, it will start to charge itself. When UPS units have at least a 75% charge, it's safe to turn your computers back on.
At the same time, remember—no protection is 100% where electricity is concerned. Always keep up-to-date backups offsite, just in case you still end up with corrupted data. This is one instance where a little prevention can save a lot of headache later!
Bonus Tip! If you are moving your office to a new location, inquire with your prospective business neighbors about power outages in the area. Some areas are more prone to power outages than others. If your business requires high availability of your network, reconsider any office locations that you know lose power regularly.
Are all your IT systems protected from power outages/surges? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to preserve your hardware & data!