Tis the season to be stormy…
With the fall season upon us, so comes the inclement weather. This month has been a reminder of just how volatile these storms can and just what kind of havoc power issues can wreck on a business.
Why are proper system shutdowns important?
While using the proper system shutdown commands during power events, or when otherwise required, may seem to be Computer 101 level procedures to some, to others, especially the untrained it is not.
Based on my experience, this seems to be a bigger issue with retailers than any other group. The core issues seem to reside primarily in the following four areas:
1. Lack of written plans and/or procedures for shutting-down and restarting servers and POS systems.
2. Lack of a training program for employees working in the stores, so that they know what to do when the power goes out.
3. High employee turnover. – New staffers are either not familiar with the system, and who have little or no training.
4. Insufficient security authorizations – some of the staff at the store have a level of security access that does not allow them to login to the server and properly shut it down.
What happens when equipment is not shutdown properly?
When an application server or POS workstation is shutdown improperly, very serious issues can result, such as:
- Loss of active unsaved data. – This might mean incomplete, and un-editable tickets, or orders.
- Critical damage to application databases that can require having to restore data from backups.
- Damage to the operating system, which might require having to restore part of it or having to go as far as restaging the entire computer. This would be especially true if a downloaded Windows Security Service Pack was to schedule to be installed on the next system shutdown, as it could cause the update to fail to be properly applied.
- Physical damage to critical components in the computer, such as the hard drive, motherboard, memory, required the machines) to be down for an extended period of time Proper Power Protection
One common oversight regarding computer installations is not having proper power protection for the systems. Normally, one should have UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) battery backups that are adequate to protect your Servers and PC’s, as well associated hardware such as modems, network switches, etc. CCS also recommends this for both new and existing systems.
Most current UPS systems allow for line conditioning, surge and brownout protection, as well as automated Server/PC shutdown capability (in the event of a complete power failure). One historical example of this involved the following:
With a new system purchase, where the customer opted not to purchase a UPS for the primary CP SQL application server. This was mainly over budgetary concerns. During a particularly bad seasonal winter storm, they were having both erratic power fluctuations combined with complete outages for extended periods of time. The staff chose to leave the server running during this time period. At one point, the power went out several times while the server was powered up, causing the server to crash and then reboot repetitively. These events resulted in damage to some critical operating system files. The resulting support work required to recover the damage was almost equal to the cost of the originally quoted UPS.
Being a firm believer in this technology, I also have my home Computer, Monitor, External Hard Drive, DSL Modem, Alarm System, and Telephones protected.
Recommended Power Protection Updates
One common oversight regarding computer installations is not maintaining power protection for a network, location servers or registers/PC’s. The following are some often neglected things.
- Old and Damaged Power Strips.
Often while on-site at various companies, I find power strips that have no power or surge protection. Often there are many that have surge protection, however, the surge protection components have failed. The normal indicator of a damaged power strip is that the rocker switch light and/or the surge light is flickering off and on or burnt out completely.
- UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) maintenance.
Under normal circumstances the battery in a UPS battery backup needs to be replaced every 3 – 4 years. Failure to do this can result in systems crashing because the battery won’t hold a charge or the battery drains before the machine can be properly shutdown (in wither automated or manual fashion).
Despite its design and intended use, a UPS is not damage proof. Since it is an electronic device under heavy usage or extreme power events, it can sustain damage or fail completely.
I have seen some instances of where the UPS charging circuit has been damaged causing the UPS to overcharge the battery, both damaging the battery, and causing the unit to overheat. A common indicator of this is the UPS is extremely hot to the touch (enough to warm coffee, a pastry or burn you). This is also a fire hazard, so this situation could be putting much more than just your computer at risk.
Also, If PC’s and peripherals have recently been replaced, the older UPS may not be adequate for the job because it doesn’t have the proper wattage and amp rating to support the new equipment.
An example of this: A user had a PC connected to and older 180 Watt/230 VA UPS, and the new equipment that was installed used a combined total of 500 Watts. When the power to the UPS was disconnected, the UPS couldn’t handle the load, and immediately terminated the power before anything could be shutdown, resulting in damage to both data and the operating system.
While you can purchase a UPS for a relatively nominal fee, cheaper retail UPS units are inadequate for the job of protecting most business systems. Most new business class “Smart” UPS systems allow for line conditioning AVR (Automated Voltage Regulation), surge and brownout protection, as well as automated Server/PC shutdown capability (in the event of a complete power failure). This takes the burden of doing this away from your staff, and ensures that equipment is properly shut-down
With the fall storm season already upon us, right now is the best time to address these issues before they become critical. CCS can evaluate your needs, make recommendations, and make sure that the proper equipment is both ordered and properly installed. Please call the CCS Retail Systems Support Department to schedule your power review.