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Is Your VOIP Phone System Ready for a Power Outage?

Updated: July 31, 2013

Power outages are a real concern for companies managing their own VOIP network. The topic has become particularly important as cities across North America recover from unexpected weather and outages. But it doesn’t always take a city-wide storm to disrupt your office power. From grid issues to routine power surges, an additional source goes a long way.

Most forward-looking businesses already have a reliable backup power source. In case your company doesn't, here are a few things to consider going forward.

How much power does it take to backup my VOIP?

Just about every piece of VOIP hardware needs power to operate. Traditional phone networks are protected against power outages with alternative sources built into different places along the landline. That’s why regular phones usually work during an outage while VOIP doesn’t.

The various pieces that make up your VOIP network require a significant amount of energy to work properly. While your phones and computers may not demand much individually, together with switches, routers and large servers, quite a bit is needed. To get hours of service in an outage, you’ll need a robust alternative power system.

Choosing an alternative power supply

Outages, surges, distortions and interference can all be prevented with a properly installed, configured and maintained alternative power source. There are two main options to choose from—an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), or a Generator. Each is different in cost, function and configuration, with UPS being the most common and affordable.

UPS is essentially a large battery that can be setup within your network to either streamline power flow or to provide power during an outage. Depending on the full power load of your network, you will likely require more than one UPS device. They require a lot of troubleshooting and upkeep, but are generally cheap.

Generators are viable but come with other hurdles. Generators have a high capacity but come at a higher cost as well. They also require additional space, planning and building permits. Building managers have to cooperate and the installation can be costly. With generator power, phones can just be plugged into the secondary power outlet to function regularly during an outage.

Did you know? Some On-Premise VOIP providers recommend keeping a landline just in case your alternative backup fails. This is an emergency precaution to allow 911 calls in a disaster. This additional precaution (and cost) may be necessary if you can’t depend on your backup power system.

Implementing a UPS System.

Installing a UPS can be as easy as connecting one between your regular outlets and your network, or as complicated as redesigning an entire part of your network. It depends largely on the design, size and complexity of your VOIP setup.

Although configuration has become more practical in modern UPS devices, the task still requires experienced IT personnel. Troubleshooting is necessary to make sure the power switchover is as seamless as possible, otherwise your phones and computers will reboot. Make sure to test it repeatedly!

The flow of power from each network segment will also have to be assessed so that UPS devices are installed at the right points. The last thing you want is for power to bypass a critical network segment. UPS capacities should also match applications. Runtime estimates are used to match a power source capacity with the desired uptime of an application. These estimates have to be refined over time to optimize the performance of the battery and the overall uptime.

UPS devices are known to occasionally fail if not properly maintained. High capacity hardware or applications can be connected to multiple devices to ensure that when one fails, another is available. This requires both proper installation and configuration.

Like most of your VOIP equipment, UPS devices need to be maintained, replaced and updated to guarantee performance. Although it’s easy to overlook UPS maintenance when outages are rare, batteries have a specific lifespan and can fail when you need them most. Your team should also regularly troubleshoot and update any software that communicates between your UPS and your network.

Like most aspects of network design, implementing an alternative power supply can get complicated. Depending on the size and intricacy of your network, it may take multiple USPs, hours of planning, configuration and maintenance.

Remaining operational during a power outage is perhaps the last advantage that traditional phone systems have over VOIP. But, realistically, in our data-driven business environment, a properly backed up VOIP system is the best way to go.


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