Should You Get an Uninterruptible Power Supply for Every PC User at Your Company?

An IT manager recently posted a question on Spiceworks that generated robust discussion. The simple question was, “Do you purchase a UPS for every PC user?”

The poster, “Jason8238,” went on to describe his environment. Most buildings are on generators but when the power goes out – as it does about every 3 months – it takes a few seconds for the generator to kick in. As a result, any PC without Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) power protection abruptly and unceremoniously shuts down.

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“I have all our servers, networking, and very mission critical personnel on UPS batteries; however, a vast majority of user PCs (including my own) are not on UPS’s,” Jason writes.

He often fields complaints from users who wonder why they don’t have a UPS for their own PCs. They mention home UPSs that only cost about $70. “Yes, but that’s just for one, we have about 150 users, replacing [batteries] every 3 years or so for safe measure adds up,” he writes. He looked into a whole-building UPS but that was “just too expensive.”

Investing in power protection is a management decision

The 200+ responses to Jason’s question demonstrate this is a topic that creates no small amount of confusion and conflicting opinions. Well, here’s my two cents.

The very first respondent to Jason’s query hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “This decision isn’t an IT decision, it’s a management decision … Is the cost of purchasing and maintaining UPS’s lower than the cost of downtime from people losing data or having to power on their PC?”

Calculating the cost of downtime for your business is a sound way to approach this question. Buying a UPS isn’t just an expense; it’s an insurance policy against downtime and the loss of data and productivity that comes with it.

The high cost of downtime and interruptions

Those costs vary dramatically but are probably higher than you think. A Gartner study a few years ago put the average cost of IT downtime at $5,600 per minute, or $336,000 per hour. Depending on the industry, costs ranged from $140,000 per hour at the low end to $540,000 at the high end. Given the study was done in 2014, you can bet the costs are higher now.

There’s also a cost associated with interruptions. A fascinating University of California Irvine study years ago, found it takes an average of 23 minutes for workers to refocus after an interruption. And it was referring to things like when a colleague walks into your office with a question, not when your PC abruptly shuts down – which I would argue is far more upsetting.

Calculating the value of power protection

It’s against this backdrop that IT managers – and business executives – need to calculate how valuable power protection is.

For starters, think about the employees who use desktop PCs at your organization, as opposed to laptops – which have built-in batteries. In many cases, employees who use desktops do so because they need powerful workstations, such as designers and engineers. Clearly, you don’t want these employees losing any of their valuable work, so a UPS for them should be a no-brainer.

Another category consists of customer facing associates, such as call center agents. It is poor practice to take the chance that their PC will shut down in the middle of a call, leaving a customer hanging – and upset.  And the cost of a negative customer experience is very high. An infographic from Vision Critical drives the point home, noting:

  • It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for one unresolved negative experience
  • 51% of customers have switched to another brand based on a negative experience
  • It costs 6-7 times more to obtain a new customer than to keep an existing one

Knowing the impact of a single negative customer experience, it may be easier to evaluate the business case for battery backup solutions for customer-facing employees.

In other cases, it may be more difficult to make the UPS case. One respondent to the Spiceworks post used virtual desktops, where all data is stored on centralized servers – so there’s no risk of data loss should the desktop lose power. In such instances, you’ve still got to consider the productivity side of the equation, but at least you won’t lose data (assuming your servers are properly protected with an appropriate UPS).

You get the idea. It is indeed a discussion you need to have with management, to assess their tolerance for data and productivity loss, and whether it’s worth investing in UPSs to mitigate the risk.

Make uninterruptible power supplies part of your IT refresh cycle

If you do decide it’s worth it, I second the advice of respondents who said it’s best to include the UPS as part of your regular IT refresh cycle. Each time you replace a PC, include the cost of a UPS as part of the equation. Using such a strategy, you can likely phase them in over multiple years, to reduce the budget hit. Either way, you won’t have much trouble making the business case that a UPS is a sound investment that provides Certainty in a Connected World.

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