UPS and Lightning

Posted on 2004-08-03
Medium Priority
Last Modified: 2010-04-11
Hi - What type of UPS do I need to prevent a server being blown up in a direct lightning strike?


Question by:stewart_fischer
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LVL 67

Expert Comment

ID: 11710730
Nothing is 100%, but you want to get a good quality UPS to protect a server.
APC has a good line- we've yet to lose a server (though how often does lightning strike?) to such an incident...
http://www.apc.com/ - there are some good guides here as well...
LVL 15

Expert Comment

ID: 11710750
Any UPS would work only difference is the UP time. 20 min, 90 min, 1hr depending on your need and how "Mission Critical" your server is. Other wise they all have surge protector in the event of a lightning our power surge.
LVL 67

Expert Comment

ID: 11711083
"Nothing is 100%"
Didn't mean to imply that you've got much to worry about...odds are definitely in your favor.
As stated, most, if not all, UPS devices have built in surge protection.  
But I recommend going with a higher-quality device, rather than a no-name/generic brand you might find on ebay, for instance.
If your server is valuable to you, don't rely on a cheap UPS to sustain it during brown/black-outs.  To extend beyond this though, make sure that you've got fault-tolerance implemented on your server and are backing it up regularly...
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Author Comment

ID: 11711925
The area where this server is has a high degree of direct lightning strikes to the point where several PCs, modems etc left plugged in have already fried during bad electrical storms. I am happy for a UPS which will just shut down the server during a blackout. What I am really after is something which will stop a direct lightning strike - don't mind if the UPS blows up, just want to save the server.

LVL 67

Accepted Solution

sirbounty earned 172 total points
ID: 11711953
If it's that bad, you should consider a well-grounded lightning rod on the rooftop...

A UPS' purpose is to sustain a server (/equipment) during a blackout (power outage).  Additionally, they often provide protection against 'surges'.
But, unless you've configured it to do so, the primary purpose of the UPS is to continually supply electrical power to your equipment, even when there is none.  During a brown-/black-out, this is typically a matter of a few minutes and most UPS's will keep your equipment running for that timeframe.  
Depending on the model UPS you choose, it can have the capabilty, through confiugration software, to send a signal to your server that power has been lost and your server respond in the manner that you've enabled ("Stay up as long as possible without risking data loss" or "Shut down immediately to avoid being fried!")
LVL 34

Expert Comment

ID: 11712339
Lightning strikes can consist of literally millions of volts of electrical energy which are discharged in a fraction of a second, meaning very high amperage  as well. There's nothing you're going to buy inexpensively that's going to protect against that. You want near-perfect protection against lightning strikes? Move your server room to and underground bunker and run your own electrical generation (fuel cell, perhaps) and have it all surrounded by a nice faraday cage.

What you can expect your average commercial UPS (from APC, Exide, whoever) to do to clamp down on surges in range of hundreds or perhaps even thousands of volts, and probably not exceeding a 100 amps, and then only that much for a brief instant (mind you, these are round, general numbers). If the UPS can react quickly enuf, it can switch your servers to its batteries and off the main line, but a powerful-enuf surge can blow past those defenses. If the UPS gets reduced to slag, well, a pile of slag can still conduct electricity into your server's power cables, can't it?

I can tell you this. I generally run APC UPSes for my server rooms, with an occasional Exide unit. In the past 10 years, I've not lost one system to lightning. I think that, on average, heat presents more of a problem for modern servers than the danger of lightning.

And if this system is so critical, then you have offsite backups (your super-duper UPS won't save the server when the building burns down, will it?) and a line on a replacement system, and a disaster-recovery/business-continuity plan, right? And when the CEO comes thru the computer center with a gaggle on VIPs on one hand and a Coke can in the other, are you going to be the one to step in front of him and tell him he can't bring the drink into the computing center? You might be right, but embarassing him in front of a bunch of VIPs won't extend your career. And will a UPS protect the servers when he spills that Coke? Nope.

My point is don't spend an inordinate amount of time worrying over this one point. There are a LOT of threats to your computing environment. Power surges/lightning strikes are just one. Pick a well-sized UPS, backed by a reputable manufacterer and a clear warranty, and move on to making sure the A/C system isn't about to croak, that even the executives know not to bring drinks around the servers, and that your tape backups are stored offsite and not in a desk drawer next to that bin full of oily rags.

Author Comment

ID: 11712391
That's a lovely story psicop but my problem is not with VIPs and Coke - it's with Lightning!!! It's a real problem in this location and I need to find a more realistic solution than underground bunkers. If a UPS is not the answer then I will need to investigate further. Thanks for your time.


Assisted Solution

MarkDozier earned 164 total points
ID: 11712562
A good UPS is a must regradless of the threat of lightning. A good grounding is essential to you conditions.
I highly recommend you find a GOOD electrician in your area and have him review you grounding. You may need to add more grounds for your building.
LVL 27

Assisted Solution

pseudocyber earned 164 total points
ID: 11714060
Stewart - if you're only worried about lightning protection - you need a surge protector, not a UPS.  Also, don't forget about the other wires going into your server - phone line (modem), network, SCSI, etc.  ALL of those have to be protected as well - or at LEAST they systems they're connected to.  Look for the best surge protection you can afford with connections to protect modem and LAN as well.  Look for a GURANTEE that if stuff happens, you get X $$$ replacement of equipment, not just replacing the surge protector.  Also, check with your legal/management about insurance for equipment damaged in a lightning strike.

Then, as was mentioned, there's redundancy - does the server have RAID, does it have known, good, verified backups?  Are the backups off site?

I tell a long and boring story of a sequence of events precipatated by a lightning strike which caused the hospital I was working at to restore its ENTIRE main system back 4 days.

I think you're wise to worry about lightning.

PS - you have any outside buried copper running network?  If so, make sure it's ALL lightning protected with GOOD gas modules - probably need to be installed by a consultant familiar with low voltage/data applications - I don't think High Voltage Electricians worry enough about the low voltage stuff - just my humble opinion (IMHO).

Hope this helps.

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