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Lifespan of Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS)

Get APC UPS at B&H Photo.

A bad smell developed in the garage, where I keep a couple of servers running on uninterruptible power supplies (UPS). Two batteries, each weighing about 75 pounds, are daisy-chained for extra “juice” off an APC SmartUPS 1000XL. I do so because I’ve had power failures up to 24 hours.

Both of the add-on batteries had leaking battery acid, or rather, signs of it having leaked such as white powder and blackened wood under the units and what looked like fluid on the plastic casing. I disconnected them and set them aside for the next hazardous waste day.

UPDATE 18 Jan: APC tells me that the add-on batteries were from 2005. I’m skeptical since that’s the year I started my business and I don’t think I bought 150 pounds of batteries way back then, but that’s the claim. If true, the batteries were way past their lifespan. But the APC SmartUPS 1000XL gave no warning or indication of a problem.

The main unit with the “smarts” to which these batteries were daisy chained does not appear to be leaking, but its battery is now over 3 years old. The unit is running hot even at an ambient temperature of 40°F, and the charge lights show only about 80%, so it is done-for. These things should never get even warm under such conditions, so that battery is surely toast.

This is not the first stinky leaking battery problem with APC; I had this happen just as I was leaving for a trip last summer. That time, the battery had bulged so much that I had difficulty extracting it. I gave up and it went to hazardous waste disposal.

Maybe this is my fault: after all, lead acid batteries have a limited lifespan. But the fact that the APC unit cannot detect such potentially serious failure situations is disappointing and calls for taking care to assess the health of any UPS on a regular basis (3 months is probably about right).

I’m probably going to pick up a new APC Smart-UPS 1500VA with LCD and Audible Alarm Disabled, which has pure sine wave power when when running on battery power. It can also take additional monster batteries which plug into the rear of the unit, for extended runtime.

Tips:

  • Check your UPS battery every few months for signs of leakage: put an appointment in your calendar to check.
  • If the UPS is running hot, there is a very good chance the battery is bad. It could leak or rupture and cause damage. A fresh UPS does not run hot (once fully charged), since it is just bypassing current to devices.
  • Use a marker to write a date onto the battery itself, as shown.
Interior of APC SmartUPS 1000XL

Jon L writes:

I have used replacement batteries from this source of several years now. My backup demands are not as demanding as yours, but I have used several replacements from this firm that have served me well.

Below is the link to the APC RBC7 battery mentioned in Don H's reply to your post.

https://www.batteryspec.com/cgi-bin/cart.cgi?action=link&product=182

The listing of replacements for all APC UPS Systems:

https://www.batteryspec.com/html/apc-ups-replacement-batteries.html

This company has been in business for > 30 years so they are not a flash in the pan. Substantially less expensive than APC replacements as well. I’m sure you know more about the technology behind these batteries than I do.

You might take a look. No relationship with the firm: just a satisfied customer.

MPG: I’ve been leery of 3rd party batteries, but the prices above are far lower. But this site has way more brains to their approach: a listing showing UPS models and their batteries. It is WAY better than the APC site. Also, it's about 30 miles from me. I’m going to see if I can just drive down their and get things swapped out.

One thing APC *does* include is free return postage for disposing of the old one. I know little about the issue; I’m just a customer who doesn’t want an exploding or leaking battery. And since 3 (actually 4) APC batteries have leaked or bulged in the past year, I’m open to credible alternatives at a lower price.

Don H writes:

In the 1990s I worked for a growing company and had to spec out a UPS large enough to support five servers for a six-hour outage. At the time APC had the best modular system, so we bought that and it performed well. This was back when Cisco’s product line only had three basic models of routers while Apple had a sprawling product matrix with far too much overlap among machines. (We called that phenomenon ‘Spindlerization’, due to Mike Spindler’s penchant for trying to match the PC world model-for-model.)

Over the years I have bought and used APC UPSs for personal use, but noticed that they too expanded their product line to the point that one can no longer navigate it. (Meanwhile, Apple famously managed to rein in their own product line.) One consequence of this lack of cohesion is that many UPSs became orphaned because the batteries were no longer available, or became so expensive that it was not economically feasible to buy a replacement battery for almost the cost of an entirely new unit. And this is what irritates me about a lot of companies: the changes made to the parts are all just different enough to thwart cross-product or backward compatibility, yet the changes are not significant enough to provide any functional benefit.

Sony did this with their consumer electronics power supplies (it seemed like every new product changed the charging connector and power brick.) Wristwatches (remember those?) have a battery variety that fills fat books. Samsung’s entire business is a pathological example of change for the sake of change. (I have no idea how their service department handles it all, partly because I will never buy a Samsung product.)

I have discarded otherwise functional APC UPSs because it was too frustrating to chase down replacement batteries. The last time I looked, their web site was a mess*. Because of these practices I have written them off - APC is dead to me. Other UPS companies have similar, but not quite as acute disorganization, but I haven’t had the bad experience (yet?) with other brands that I have with APC.

Well, crap. I just looked at Tripp Lite’s product line. That’s 279 different models, each with one insignificant feature different from a dozen others.

I guess it’s better to have an embarrassment of riches rather than nothing at all, but I am personally getting really tired of hacking my way through other companies’ wasteful lack of focus or product cohesion. Your post on APC just happened to trigger this particular rant.

* Ok, I just looked again and the first thing I see at APC is an ad saying “Want to turn APC products into Recurring revenue?". I know the intention is to sell ‘managed services’ but my immediate interpretation is that they have figured out a way to milk their own customers with post-sales water torture costs.

But I stand by my complaint about their ridiculous product line. I would be willing to bet that they now have three or four hundred UPS models just in their Back-UPS and Smart-UPS categories, and that’s not getting into their enterprise ’solutions'.

MPG: indeed, it is a very confusing product line with hundreds of options.

I spent 20 minutes trying to find the right internal replacement battery for the SmartUPS 1000XL (it is not listed in specifications or data sheet!). I am pretty sure that the right replacement for the APC SmartUPS 1000XL is the APC Replacement Battery Cartridge #7, RBC7. I did find the external add-on battery supplement page.

APC sucks in a lot of ways: the web site can be extremely slow, it is very hard to find the right battery (and no distinction between internal and external). Tech support inquiries require serial numbers—well it’s not see easy to get a serial number when a 50 or 75 lb device is in a tight space that does not make it visible. I might look at TRIPP LITE and see how that goes because evey time I have to deal with battery issues it chews up hours.

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