Becoming powerless

At 1:30am this morning my wife woke me up.

"The power is out."

My sleep addled brain slowly came online, registering what she said to me. I cast a quick glance at the digital clock on the nightstand and sure enough it was dead. There was a mild thunderstorm in our area. As I lay there debating whether this required action on my part—again, my brain wasn't fully activated yet—I heard the faint cry of my UPSs down in my basement office.

It's rare the power goes out in our area and if it does, it never stays off more than a couple of minutes. The UPSs that powered the various machines in the basement could easily handle a 2 or 3 minute outage. That's when my wife said:

"It's been out for about 15 minutes."

Ninja like I sprang into action, racing down the now pitch black stair case and hoping I wouldn't twist an ankle and plunge headfirst to an embarrassing demise: "Local hero perishes in valiant effort to save data" would be an unlikely headline. "Local idiot dives off staircase for computer and dies" would probably be it. You know you've been in IT too long when you hear the bleeping of a UPS alarm and have the same visceral response a mom does to a crying baby; "they need me"! Damn, I am such a geek.

There are three UPSs in my office, two of them were crying out that they needed power while the third—the one powering my Mac Pro—was silent. I powered down the two machines attached to the other UPSs and looked over at the now completely silent Mac Pro. It's UPS couldn't handle the load that long and I had a couple of external devices sucking power off that same UPS as well. A silent white flash outside, followed a few seconds later by the rumble of thunder simply set the moment. Man, I hoped I had saved everything important and that Time Machine wasn't in the middle of a backup when it died.

Apparently the power came back a couple of hours later. When I did finally wake up I was greeted with what seemed like dozens of flashing digital clocks throughout the house. I love that engineers put digital clocks on ovens, microwaves, coffee makers, etc. I just wish they would put friggin batteries in them too.

I powered up the Mac Pro and started in for the day. I opened up and scanned through all of the entries. I didn't see anything noteworthy and after firing up a few applications everything seemed fine. If you are ever curious as to what your machine does when it starts up fire up Console, click on Show Log List and then click on All Messages right after boot up. Lots and lots of information in there on what's really being loaded up.

Time Machine kicked off just as I started to write this. As I composed my prose I noticed that TM was still working. Usually TM runs extremely quickly on this Mac Pro, now it was taking forever.  I looked at the console and there was this message:

6/4/08 8:24:47 AM /System/Library/CoreServices/backupd[297] Node requires deep traversal:/Volumes/BigDisk reason:kFSEDBEventFlagMustScanSubDirs|kFSEDBEventFlagReasonEventDBUntrustable| 

I can only assume that since the machine did not shut down in an orderly fashion that something was left in an open state and now backupd needs to ensure everything is okay. The backup ended up taking about 30 minutes instead of the usual 2 minutes.

What I really need is a UPS that can talk to my Mac Pro. The UPS I have attached to it now is a legacy from my Windows machine: a Tripp Lite Omni VS1000. I've had really good luck with Tripp Lites and would be quite happy to keep using it but unfortunately I didn't find any Mac specific software that would enable me to use it as anything more than a battery backup.

Ideally what I want is something that can communicate with the Mac. Being able to read power levels, get warnings of a low battery that needs to be replaced and the ability to send a signal to the Mac to gracefully shut down is perfect.

In my brief searching this morning I could only find older references to Mac specific UPS software and devices, so I'm going to ask you: Any recommendations for a decent mid-range, desktop UPS that has OS X compatible software? If someone is aware of good third party software for driving a Tripp Lite from OS X that would be even better.

Next time the power drops in my house I'd really just like to stay in bed and know that the machines will handle their own shut downs gracefully.


David said...

First off, check to see if your UPS has a network port. If it does, there's a good possibility that all you need to do is connect it via USB to your Mac Pro and let the Mac do the rest.

If not, Almost any newer UPS will work, and forget about driver software; in most cases OS X will recognize the UPS and allow you to set it up under "Energy Saver" in System Preferences.

Remember how easy it was to hook up all your other peripherals; a UPS is just another peripheral.

Anonymous said...

alphageek: The good news is that you don't need any additional software with OS X. Most of the entry level and midrange UPS boxes that have a USB port are plug and play with OS X.

I had this pleasant surprise when I plugged in an MGE UPS to my Mac Mini and in the Energy Saver Control Panel, a new menu item appeared so that you can set the various options related to how to behave when on UPS power, just like when running off a battery on a portable.

There also a new tab in the Control Panel that lets you define when you want to shut down the machine (time or percentage remaining on battery power etc.) and monitor the charge of the UPS.

It's quite nice, and integrated by default. The only hiccup is that most of the USB communication ports on UPSs are USB 1.1 so make sure it's not plugged into a hub port where other USB devices will be penalized.

Anonymous said...

To follow on what others have said. Macs have really nice UPS software built-in under the Energy Saver Preference Panel. If you're looking for a new one, my recommendation is APC. I've had great luck with them and the Mac knows exactly how to work with it.

David Alison said...

@David & Alphageek: thanks guys. I tried plugging in the UPS via USB and the Mac did not recognize it. At least it didn't see it in the Energy Saver control panel. Is a restart required? Perhaps it simply doesn't recognize the Tripp Lite.

Murf said...

Thanks for the topic! This is something I've been meaning to spend some research time on myself.

I've worked in places where 'mission-critical' computers got new UPSs yearly, but never needed to use the auto-shutdown function (whole building backup generators are great!).

I hadn't even considered that Mac OS would handle the UPS software part! I've got a couple kicking around at home that I'll try later. Now I'll just need to find a new source of spare USB cables :)

xcapepr said...

I have an APC brand UPC and included was a software CD that listed Mac OS X.

After trying to use the CD, I got a "Not compatible with Intel Macs" thing after installation.

A quick check at their site listed a download that was Intel compatible and lo and behold it worked.

The software is called PowerShute and the cool thing about it is that it builds a log of all UPS activity, when it went to batt mode, when it came back, total time on battery, voltage, load, etc.

Ast A. Moore said...

I also have an APC branded UPS. The PowerShute is good, but I prefer to keep the amount of third-party drivers on my machine to a minimum. I just rely on Mac OS's built-in capabilities and they seem to do a great, unobtrusive job.

David Alison said...

Sounds like APC is compatible. Any others I should throw into the mix for consideration? If you have a UPS that's hooked up to your Mac and works with the Energy Saver preferences please let me know the brand and model.

Tom said...

I have an APC ES 750 here that works with no software on my Mac Pro. Plug it in via USB, and a battery icon shows up in the menu bar, along with extra options in energy saver.

Is there a particular reason you don't have the machine go to sleep at night? I have mine set to go to sleep at 2am via the Schedule button in Energy Saver in case I forget to do so manually. It uses so little power in sleep mode, my UPS could probably power it all night long if needed. If you do have scheduled tasks that need to run, you could set a wakeup time then a sleep time shortly after that. I do that for my Mac Mini in the entertainment center. It wakes up at 4am to download new podcasts and run a time machine backup, then sleeps again at 5am.

dylan said...

I use a Trip Lite that I bought at Costco. It works fine with the OS X built in support and will initiate an orderly shutdown of the machine.

David Alison said...

@Tom: Thanks. I usually just left the machine running, pulling e-mail throughout the evening. Since my Mac Pro shares our digital photo library I tend to keep it fully powered with the screens shut down. Perhaps I'll rethink that though as it is power that I don't need to burn.

Too bad I can't get the existing Tripp Lite to work though.

David said...

David, you might try a different USB cable, just in case. Even so, I'm personally using an APC Back-UPS XS 1500 LCD. A lot more than I really need, but since I game on World of Warcraft, I want the time to get my avatar to a safe place before logging out.
Obviously, I also have a router and our cable modem plugged into the battery ports as well.

David Alison said...

@David: I just tried a different USB cable; same result. I'm pretty sure this particular UPS is just not supported. This one is a little over 3 years old anyway and a little underpowered for what I need; I'm going to get a 1500 class as well. We've had thunderstorms all day here in Washington DC area and power is dropping all the time now. Very frustrating.

Anonymous said...

I use an APC RS 1500 LS on my early08 MacPro and it has been flawless the last few months through a few power outs using only the built-in Leopard drivers. This model is nice since it allows you to view the wattage that is being drawn on the LCD. It is interesting to see how power draw increases when you fire up the MacPro on multiple cores/processes versus when you are simply doing surfing.

Previously I was using a TripLite 1000LCD and it would occasionally draw too much power and trigger a UPS fault when exiting from sleep.

David Alison said...

@Anon: That's exactly what I needed to hear. I wasn't sure if a 1000 was adequate for a Mac Pro; sounds like the 1500 would be a better fit. Trying to find the best deal today.

VesperDEM said...

Personally, I put my machine to sleep each night and wake it up in the morning myself. It only takes a couple of seconds for the Mac Pro to wake up after being put to sleep.

I found a great program that will put a machine to sleep after a user settable period of idle time. It's called PowerManager. It's a little pricy, but it's great. I have it running on my MacBook (Media Center Computer) set to put the computer to sleep after 2 1/2 hours of idle time so that I can watch a movie without it going to sleep before it finishes. I can also disable it temporarily via the menubar if needed.

PowerManager can also be configured to put the computer to sleep and wake it back up via a schedule. This way, you can have it go to sleep at a specific time during the week and a different time during the weekends.

If I'm downloading something and need the computer to run overnight, I don't put it to sleep, but that's pretty rare these days.

My new external hard drive can tell when the computer is not on and will put the hard drive to sleep too. This is the biggest reason I don't keep the computer on over night. That and it won't do Time Machine backups every hour while I am asleep since there really isn't a need.

David Alison said...

@Vesperdem: For the first time I put the Mac Pro to sleep last night - I think I will be doing that moving forward. It does wake up instantly and it will be drawing less power.

ping said...

VesperDEM: I found a great program that will put a machine to sleep after a user settable period of idle time. It's called PowerManager. It's a little pricy, but it's great. I have it running on my MacBook (Media Center Computer) set to put the computer to sleep after 2 1/2 hours of idle time so that I can watch a movie without it going to sleep before it finishes. I can also disable it temporarily via the menubar if needed.

The Energy Saver preference pane already provides exactly that functionality out of the box ("Put the computer to sleep when it is inactive for: ... min/hrs") — what does the separate utility provide on top of that?

ping said...

You can also set your own schedule for shutdown, sleep, wakeup and even startup in the Energy Saver preference pane, by the way. Just click on the Schedule… button.

Very nice if, for instance, you want it to start up in the morning and fetch your mail in time before you've finished breakfast.

Or if you want it to sleep automatically after it has finished a TV recording (EyeTV can also wake up the machine if necessary).

David Alison said...

@Ping: in my sleep deprived state I don't know when I'll actually be at the machine. I'm now getting in the habit of just putting it to sleep myself in the evening manually since it wakes up and is ready to go in seconds when I get to it in the morning.

ping said...

Same here — but in a few cases it does come in handy. And as rumour has it, some people actually seem to have a very regular life style, so they might be able to make some use of it as well... ;-)

VesperDEM said...

@ping: I'll admit, I forgot about Power Saver allowing me to put the computer to sleep after a set amount of idle time and yes, I am aware of Power Saver's scheduler.

The problem with Power Saver's scheduler doesn't handle multiple entries. What if you want to change the time the computer goes to sleep during the weekends? Power Saver's scheduler isn't going to allow you to set that up.

PowerManager allows you to setup a series of power down/power ups over the course of a day and week. Very powerful there.

ping said...

VesperDEM: PowerManager allows you to setup a series of power down/power ups over the course of a day and week. Very powerful there.

Ah, okay. That does indeed sound like a nice extension on top of the built-in feature.