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 Maintaining Your Uninterruptable Power Supply


By Ralph Willett

With the recent storms rolling through many areas of the country, it is a good time to think about something we often ignore: the uninterpretable power supply (UPS) powering our phone system.

Most companies power their telephone systems with a UPS often called a battery backup system. The purpose of these systems is to keep your phone system in service when the power to the building goes out and to protect it from power sags, surges, and spikes. How long the system will remain operational during a power failure depends on several factors:

  • The battery capacity of your UPS

  • The size of the load you have plugged into the UPS.

  • The age of your batteries

Make a special note of how old your batteries are. The batteries in your UPS system are a consumable product. This means that they wear out. The older the battery, the less of a charge it can hold. As a result, a battery backup unit that could maintain your system for an hour when the power goes out may only be able to hold your system up for a few minutes and sometimes not at all. The absolute worst time to find this out is when you need it the most: during a power failure.

According to John Ruffing, Project Engineer and APC Integrated Design Consultant for SunTel Services, an Elite reseller of APC UPS systems in Michigan, there are several factors that will cause batteries to wear out quicker:

  • Usage. How frequently the batteries are discharged - even if only partially.

  • How clean the power feed to the UPS is. If the power used to keep the batteries charged is 'noisy' or has a lot of small power spikes, sags or dips, the batteries will wear out more quickly.

  • Heat. This is something not normally thought about but if the room where the battery backup is located is hot, it can reduce the effective lifetime by as much as two thirds. Conversely, a UPS placed in a cooler environment can often last up to five years.

He also points out that your UPS and batteries should be checked periodically. The electronics of the UPS are designed to absorb spikes and surges on the power line feeding the UPS. Eventually, these components can wear out the UPS itself not just the batteries. If the electronics fail, your equipment may no longer be protected and your batteries may no longer charge and perhaps cause anything connected to the UPS to lose power.

"Better yet", he says, "if your UPS can be connected to your network, make sure that you set it up to alert you via email when it requires maintenance. The APC SmartUPS and Symmetra product lines can be remotely monitored, but often customers don't take the time to set this up. The cost of the management card is negligible and provides invaluable information as to when batteries need to be replaced and when the UPS needs maintenance."

Another thing to consider when reviewing your battery backup system is what is plugged into it. When you first installed your system you may have originally started out with only your telephone system and a couple of servers powered by the UPS but more equipment may have been connected to it since that time such as a new server or two or a new router or firewall. While it's always a good idea to be sure all your servers and routers are connected to a UPS, keep in mind that the more load you connect to your UPS, the less runtime will be available during a power outage.

If you're not familiar with how to check your battery backup or UPS, we recommend that you engage your dealer to assist you. Their training and tools will help assure your system will continue to do what's expected of it. Your dealer will be able to help you replace any components necessary and since battery disposal requires special procedures they will be able to handle that for you. If you're unsure who your UPS var may be, check with your telephone system dealer first. Frequently your telephone system provider may be the same var for your UPS. If you're unsure of who your var may be you can locate one in your area at

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