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As I write this article, hurricane season is underway, and according to the local research team here at Colorado State University (reported by National Geographic and ScienceDaily), 2007 could be a very active hurricane season, including possible storms with winds over 111 miles per hour. Hurricanes aren't much of a threat in Colorado, but I can't help but think about the kinds of disasters that can strike an organization. Since Hurricane Katrina, everyone seems to be a little more focused on taking preemptive measures to protect against all sorts of disasters.

On top of natural disasters, you also have to worry about power outages and sudden spikes in power, which can severely affect your day-to-day business operations. A disaster-recovery plan has many facets—offsite backups, recovery plans, and so on—and one of the most essential aspects of that plan should be a UPS. This hardware can continue computer and server operations even if your system power fails, letting you save data or close critical applications.

The Backbone of UPSs
The UPS market is a fairly mature market and hasn't changed much over the past year or so. There are still three main types of UPSs. The cheapest type—aimed primarily at desktop computers—is the standby UPS. This type uses the commercial AC line as its primary power source, and when a power outage or voltage drop occurs, the primary source switches from the AC line to the UPS's internal battery. However, the switch between power sources isn't instant. Remember, the quicker the UPS takes over your equipment's power, the quicker you can save critical data and close important applications. The second type, line-interactive, uses an inverter/converter that serves two purposes: charge the UPS's internal battery and convert the battery's DC power to AC power to run your connected equipment. The advantage of this type is that the inverter/converter is always connected to the UPS's output, providing a faster response time to power failure. The third type—and the greatest protection for your systems—is the online UPS. An online UPS doesn't rely on the AC line but rather uses a battery as its primary source, never having to transfer power between different sources.

One consistent factor among UPSs is output capacity, measured in VAs. As you narrow in on the right UPS, talk with the vendor to ensure that the UPS you're considering can power your current equipment and any future equipment you plan to purchase. For this buyer's guide, I've focused on floormounted UPSs for small-to-midsized businesses (SMBs) that protect 10 servers or fewer, and with a limit of 6,000VA.

Windows UPS Service
If you've already installed a UPS—or you plan to do so in the future—you can use the Windows UPS Service to manage its operations from your server. The Windows UPS Service isn't new, by any means. You can find it in Windows XP, in the Control Panel Power Options applet. For instructions about using the Windows UPS Service to configure, install, use, remove, and test a UPS device, see the Microsoft article "Using the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) service" (http://www.microsoft.com/resources/documentation/windows/xp/all/proddocs/enus/pwrmn_ups_overview.mspx?mfr=true).

Management Platform
Most vendors will have some sort of management platform to manage the UPS infrastructure. Having one central location to monitor all power usage can be a lifesaver, particularly if you have several UPSs. And application-shutdown support can also be extremely useful—saving you from having to do the work manually during a disaster situation. When power outages occur, IT has to scramble to do many things. This functionality takes one task off the plate.

Staying Green
It's no secret that large companies are spending lots of money on powering day-to-day operations. This increase in powering costs has produced a number of studies and vendor initiatives on "green technology." The challenge is to find ways to reduce the amount of power we produce—with the nice byproduct of reducing costs.

Green-technology efforts have mostly focused on large data centers, but even if you're managing a branch office or running your own small business, you can save energy and money. Watch for power-saving features in the UPS you're considering. Such functionality primarily provides automatic, unattended shutdown. Other power-saving features include the ability to shed less critical loads (turning off individual UPS outlets) and log of power-consumption patterns.

Start Your Research Here
One of the best ways to prepare your business for any kind of disaster is to invest in UPS hardware. There are many factors to consider, so you're in for a little research. On the following pages, you can begin your shopping.