Your system’s environment consists of all of those factors that are not actually part of the server itself but nevertheless play a crucial role in the reliability and quality that can be expected from the system. Electrical supplies, room temperature and humidity, sources of interference, and security are all factors that should be contemplated.

Power Conditioning and Uninterruptible Power Supplies

When selecting the power sources for your system, consideration should be given not only to the amount of power the system will use, but also to the manner in which this power is delivered.

Power is not as simple as voltage coming from the outlet in the wall, and you should never just plug a production system into whatever electrical source is near at hand.[225] Giving some consideration to the supply of power to your system can ensure that you provide a far more stable power environment, leading to a far more stable system.

One of the benefits of clean power is a reduction in heat, which means less stress on components, leading to a longer life expectancy.

Properly grounded, conditioned power feeding a premium-quality power supply will ensure a clean logic ground (a.k.a. 0-volt) reference[226] for the system and keep electrical noise on the motherboard to a minimum. These are industry-standard best practices for this type of equipment, which should not be neglected. A relatively simple way to achieve this is through the use of a power-conditioned UPS.[227]

Power-conditioned UPSs

The UPS is well known for its role as a battery backup, but the power-conditioning benefits that high-end UPS units also provide are less well understood.

Power conditioning can provide a valuable level of protection from the electrical environment by regenerating clean power through an isolation transformer. A quality power conditioner in your UPS will eliminate most electrical noise from the power feed and help to ensure a rock-steady supply of power to your system.

Unfortunately, not all UPS units are created equal; many of the less expensive units do not provide clean power. What’s worse, manufacturers of these devices will often promise all kinds of protection from surges, spikes, overvoltages, and transients. While such devices may protect your system from getting fried in an electrical storm, they will not clean up the power being fed to your system, and thus will do nothing to contribute to stability.

Make sure your UPS is power conditioned. If it doesn’t say exactly that, it isn’t.


Voltage is defined as the difference in electrical potential between two points. When considering a ground (which is basically nothing more than an electrical path to earth), the common assumption is that it represents 0 volts. But if we do not define that 0V in relation to something, we are in danger of assuming things that may not be so. If you measure the voltage between two grounding references, you’ll often find that there is a voltage potential between them. This voltage potential between grounding points can be significant enough to cause logic errors—or even damage—in a system where more than one path to ground is present.


One of the authors recalls once frying a sound card he was trying to connect to a friend’s stereo system. Even though both the computer and the stereo were in the same room, more than 6 volts of difference was measured between the ground conductors of the two electrical outlets they were plugged into! The wire between the stereo and the PC (by way of the sound card) provided a path that the voltage eagerly followed, thus frying a sound card that was not designed to handle that much current on its signal leads. Connecting both the PC and the stereo to the same outlet fixed the problem.

When considering electrical regulations, the purpose of a ground is primarily human safety. In a computer, the ground is used as a 0V logic reference. An electrical system that provides proper safety will not always provide a proper logic reference—in fact, the goals of safety and power quality are sometimes in disagreement. Naturally, when a choice must be made, safety has to take precedence.


Since the difference between a binary zero and a binary one is represented in computers by voltage differences of sometimes less than 3V, it is entirely possible for unstable power conditions caused by poor grounding or electrical noise to cause all kinds of intermittent system problems. Some power and grounding advocates estimate that more than 80 percent of unexplained computer glitches can be traced to power quality. Most of us blame Microsoft.

Modern switching power supplies are somewhat isolated from power quality issues, but any high-performance system will always benefit from a well-designed power environment. In mainframes, proprietary PBXs, and other expensive computing platforms, the grounding of the system is never left to chance. The electronics and frames of these systems are always provided with a dedicated ground that does not depend on the safety grounds supplied with the electrical feed.

Regardless of how much you are willing to invest in grounding, when you specify the electrical supply to any PBX, ensure that the electrical circuit is completely dedicated to your system (as discussed in the next section) and that an insulated, isolated grounding conductor is provided. This can be expensive to provision, but it will contribute greatly to a quality power environment for your system.[228]

It is also vital that each and every peripheral you connect to your system be connected to the same electrical receptacle (or, more specifically, the same ground reference). This will cut down on the occurrence of ground loops, which can cause anything from buzzing and humming noises to damaged or destroyed equipment.

Electrical Circuits

If you’ve ever seen the lights dim when an electrical appliance kicks in, you’ve seen the effect that a high-energy device can have on an electrical circuit. If you were to look at the effects of a multitude of such devices, each drawing power in its own way, you would see that the harmonically perfect 50- or 60-Hz sine wave you may think you’re getting with your power is anything but. Harmonic noise is extremely common on electrical circuits , and it can wreak havoc on sensitive electronic equipment. For a PBX, these problems can manifest as audio problems, logic errors, and system instability.

Ideally, you should never install a server on an electrical circuit that is shared with other devices. There should be only one outlet on the circuit, and you should connect only your telephone system (and associated peripherals) to it. The wire (including the ground) should be run unbroken directly back to the electrical panel. The grounding conductor should be insulated and isolated. There are far too many stories of photocopiers, air conditioners, and vacuum cleaners wreaking havoc with sensitive electronics to ignore this rule of thumb.


The electrical regulations in your area must always take precedence over any ideas presented here. If in doubt, consult a power quality expert in your area on how to ensure that you adhere to electrical regulations. Remember, electrical regulations take into account the fact that human safety is far more important than the safety of the equipment.

The Equipment Room

Environmental conditions can wreak havoc on systems, yet it is quite common to see critical systems deployed with little or no attention given to these matters. When the system is installed, everything works well, but after as little as six months, components begin to fail. Talk to anyone with experience in maintaining servers and systems, and it becomes obvious that attention to environmental factors can play a significant role in the stability and reliability of systems.


Simply put, humidity is water in the air. Water is a disaster for electronics for two main reasons: 1) water is a catalyst for corrosion, and 2) water is conductive enough that it can cause short circuits. Do not install any electronic equipment in areas of high humidity without providing a means to remove the moisture.


Heat is the enemy of electronics. The cooler you keep your system, the more reliably it will perform, and the longer it will last. If you cannot provide a properly cooled room for your system, at a minimum ensure that it is placed in a location that ensures a steady supply of clean, cool air. Also, keep the temperature steady. Changes in temperature can lead to condensation and other damaging changes.


An old adage in the computer industry holds that dust bunnies inside of a computer are lucky. Let’s consider some of the realities of dust bunnies:

  • Significant buildup of dust can restrict airflow inside the system, leading to increased levels of heat.

  • Dust can contain metal particles, which, in sufficient quantities, can contribute to signal degradation or shorts on circuit boards.

Put critical servers in a filtered environment, and clean out dust bunnies regularly.


Server security naturally involves protecting against network-originated intrusions, but the environment also plays a part in the security of a system. Telephone equipment should always be locked away, and only persons who have a need to access the equipment should be allowed near it.

[225] Okay, look, you can plug it in wherever you’d like, and it’ll probably work, but if your system has strange stability problems, please give this section another read. Deal?

[226] In electronic devices, a binary zero (0) is generally related to a 0-volt signal, while a binary one (1) can be represented by many different voltages (commonly between 2.5 and 5 volts). The grounding reference that the system will consider 0 volts is often referred to as the logic ground. A poorly grounded system might have electrical potential on the logic ground to such a degree that the electronics mistake a binary zero for a binary one. This can wreak havoc with the system’s ability to process instructions.

[227] It is a common misconception that all UPSs provide clean power. This is not at all true.

[228] On a hobby system, this is probably too much to ask, but if you are planning on using Asterisk for anything important, at least be sure to give it a fighting chance; don’t put anything like air conditioners, photocopiers, laser printers, or motors on the same circuit. The strain such items place on your power supply will shorten its life expectancy.