Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.
Problems with the power to your computer can translate into damage to your computer and data. I'll cover how much protection you might need.
I use a surge suppressor and an uninterruptible power supply (battery backup). I live in the southeastern US, and we're prone to summer thunder storms. My wife works for the State, and they never unplug their computers. I shut down and unplug everything from the wall socket when we have a close storm. What would your recommendation be? Or is that an unanswerable question unless you're here?
Oh, it may be unanswerable, but I won't let that stop me from taking a whack at it .
I certainly can't give you a blanket yes/no answer, as the specifics of the situation really do play a large role in the solution. But I can tell you what I look at when I decide how far to take it.
Let me start by describing what I do - my situation is different than yours, but I think the process that leads me to my solution is a good example of the kinds of things that need to be taken into account.
I run one of my computers and some equipment through an uninterruptible power supply. I have something like eight computers here, but when the power goes out that UPS powers only the bare minimum needed to keep my network and internet connection up. That means one computer (a Linux box that runs my local DNS), two routers and a wireless access point. That's it.
I do this to maximize the time that the UPS can keep this equipment running (probably an hour or two). It's designed to allow my laptops - which by definition have their own "battery backup" - to stay running and remain usable on the 'net. All the other machines (my desktop, my NAS, my whatever else) all go dark during a power outage. And they're all connected through inexpensive surge protectors to the wall socket.
It's all about risk management and tradeoffs.
I don't lose power often - perhaps once a year, maybe for an hour or two on average. When the power goes it typically goes down "cleanly" - meaning it's pretty close to turning off a switch.
And yet ... one year a power outage wasn't so clean. The power went down "roughly" (low voltage, high voltage, spikes and dips all before it finally went completely off) and in the process I lost one of my hard disks.
Yet I lost no data.
The tradeoff I made was to use various backup strategies - which would allow me to recover from this and many other types of failures - rather than investing in a larger UPS that might handle more of my machines.
As I said, I lost no data, and simply recovered/replaced the drive.
If my power were more frequently unstable, I might choose a different tradeoff. As it stands, losing a drive to a power hit every two or three years is less costly overall than a bigger UPS - as long as there's no data loss, that is. (And as I said, the tools protecting me from data loss are protecting me from a lot more than just power issues.)
I believe I've made a good tradeoff for my situation. I've thought it through, balancing the likelihood of various problems with the costs and inconveniences of recovering from those problems.
Your situation is different, as I said. You live in a lightning prone area and that means your risk tradeoffs will almost certainly be different than mine. Rather than the power simply going *off*, your risk might be the power suddenly spiking very, very high prior to going off. That is more likely to do damage.
In your shoes, I would at a minimum invest in a good surge protector. I know you said you have one, but I want to be clear it needs to be a good one. Not a cheap one such as those I can get away with here. You need one that's rated to handle things like lightning strikes. When you go searching, focus on objective evaluations and user comments, now liberally available on many online stores. A good surge protector is, in my mind, a 90% solution to your situation. (With one huge exception I'll mention below.)
My personal take is that your UPS may be optional. They can be expensive, and you need to trade that off against the risk of power going off and the risk of data loss happening if the power goes off. Of course the actual frequency of power problems plays a huge part in this decision as well.
In reality, once surges are taken out of the equation simply pulling the plug isn't as huge a risk. Don't get me wrong, it is a risk, and not something you want to have happen frequently, but it typically boils down to a data loss risk as opposed to an equipment damage risk. (And, yes, to cover all my bases equipment damage can of course also happen, but it's even less likely. When you just pull the plug the greater risk is to your data).
What I find interesting in all this is that there's more at stake here than just your computer. For example, you'll find that your telephone landline almost certainly goes through some kind of fuse or surge suppressor already. And of course we've all heard stories of TVs or microwave's being damaged by exceptionally close or direct lightning strikes. And that leads me to the next class of protection...
It's possible that larger installations you're mentioning don't need additional protection as much because they're already protected at some common source. This is well beyond my expertise, but I could theorize that a building or segments of a building are already protected with surge suppressors prior to the wall outlet. Some even have battery or generator backup as well.
Of course, it's also possible that none of that is in place and a good nearby lightning strike will render several electrical devices inoperative. I hope that they have good backups.
Finally, I let my own experience guide me as to what's really necessary. I've never unplugged a device in a thunderstorm, for example. But I might turn off computers not on my UPS if the power seems to be flickering and threatening to go out. But I have experienced so few problems I don't worry much about it.
My guess is that unless you frequently have lightning strikes nearby your home, your UPS and surge suppressor represent a good, solid solution for 99% of what you'll ever encounter. Of course things could happen - there are never any guarantees; it's all about probabilities and risk management.
Which leads me to the final and in my opinion the most important solution of all.
No matter what protection you have in place, backups are critical. If your hardware fails, or even if a minor power glitch causes a disk to become unreadable, a current backup can save you from catastrophic data loss. In fact, the number of scenarios where a backup can save you goes well beyond lightning strikes and power problems. Having current and complete backups really is the closest thing to a silver bullet when it comes to computing.
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