How did data centers do during the recent spate of disasters? Just fine, thanks to good planning.
The cloud is a great repository for critical information, but in the event of a fire, hurricane, earthquake, or other disaster, that information is only as safe as the data center in which it’s stored. This summer, disasters around the world underscored this harsh reality.
In Texas and Florida, key data centers withstood Hurricanes Harvey and Irma through good luck — and good planning. Diesel generators and a team of well-trained employees kept the centers running and Internet going through the storms. One Texas center run by Skybox was so well-prepared for disaster that employees’ families used it as an evacuation shelter and United States marshals used it as a headquarters during Hurricane Harvey.
Data centers depend on a steady, uninterrupted flow of electricity to keep equipment cool and running. Even if an area loses power, data centers must be the exception. In Miami, the Digital Realty data center, which serves customers including IBM, Facebook, CenturyLink, and ATT, remained operational even when the area lost power, thanks to backup generators and a 10,500-gallon tank of diesel. There are no legal standards for data centers unless they house servers for clients that require special protection, like government agencies. But with customers including major Internet sites, oil companies, and financial institutions, the companies that run data servers are under an imperative to keep all systems running. In 2015, Hurricane Sandy caused problems for data centers in the New York area, and each disaster sets a new template for others to follow as they prepare for the inevitable next big disruptive event. Here are some of the best preparedness strategies:
Don’t Put All The Eggs In One Basket
Your clients are depending on your data center, so make sure their data is safe by hosting it at redundant centers in multiple locations that are far enough apart that if one is impacted by a disaster, another center won’t be in the same geographic region.
Design Disaster-Proof Infrastructure
New construction brings the opportunity to prepare for worst-case scenarios. Work with an architect to design buildings that can withstand seismic activity, water ingress, fire, and explosions. Firms that specialize in 911 call centers and other critical infrastructure will have experience with protecting sensitive equipment. Construction requirements should include reinforced concrete walls, shatterproof glass, and a building site located above 500-year floodplain. If you are working in an existing space, you can take measures to protect equipment by positioning it in an interior, protected area away from windows.
Create a disaster plan for a variety of worst-case scenarios. Assign key staff members roles and responsibilities, and periodically meet to make sure plans are current and everyone understands how they need to contribute. Maintain a list of disaster-recovery information offsite. Generators and water pumps should be on hand and staff should be trained in their use. If flooding is a risk, make a higher-ground plan for any portable equipment. Cloning servers to a cloud location is also a good idea.
Back It Up
Back up essential data well before disaster strikes, and assign personnel to create more timely backups. Consider high-capacity portable storage options. IBM recently announced plans to release a 330TB sputtered magnetic tape storage cartridge the size of a phone. That should come in handy. The current LTO-7 cartridges have a capacity of 15TB compressed data.
Protect Your People
Disaster plans must prioritize human safety. Design a safe place for employees to weather the storm, and keep emergency stores of food and basic essentials. Data Foundry stocked its Houston centers with cots and other supplies for its essential workforce, who stayed on site throughout the storm.
In the future, the employee factor might not be a top priority. Some operators are floating the idea of “lights-out” data centers that are maintained solely through AI, robotics, and remote monitoring. Right now, the need for a human interaction is too high, as potential disasters would require the flexible and creative solutions only human minds can produce.