When Disaster Strikes: It’s Easier Than You Think to Protect Your Organization

Chris Witt (Profile)
Thursday, May 19th 2011

Japan, Katrina, World Trade Center - unimaginable tradegy and disaster. It seems endless; earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, volcanic activity, tornados, wild fires, floods, snow and political unrest are all included on the list of things to keep you up at night. These are examples of recent natural and man-made disasters that have affected different regions around the world. We all hope that we never have to experience the devastation that is being felt in Japan or the aftermath of the recent tornados and severe weather throughout the U.S. The local citizens are trying to cope with numerous issues relating to basic human needs like food, water, and shelter let alone basic infrastructure like power and communications. Would you be prepared if your data center was in the path of such destruction? Now is a good time to reevaluate your situation and its not as overwhelming as you might think.

As a data center manager, you are responsible to account for all scenarios that could impact data center availability. Let’s look at the challenges you would have if your data center was located in or near the areas of devastation. The areas of concern are power, people, structure and communications. Odds are that you will not have power. This is a basic concern that every data center manager accounts for by employing emergency power of some kind. Under “normal” power outages, generators work very well. Whether the generators are piston driven, turbines, or fuel cells, they all need to be fed continuously. The problem with this situation is the power will probably be out for an extended period of time. Normally this would not be too much of an issue because you have negotiated those diesel fuel delivery contracts. The only problem is that there are no usable roads between you and the fuel source. Even if you are using natural gas, there is no guarantee the pipeline would survive the earthquake.

What is the status of your staff and can they get to the facility? Even if they can, would they? In a disaster, your staff is going to be more concerned with their own safety and the well being of their family. Not surprinsingly, your data center will be pretty far down the list of priorities.

An obvious question then might be: what is the status of my structure? The building may be damaged to the point of being unusable or dangerous. If your data center has survived and you have personnel and power, you may still have issues if you don’t have your communication lines. Most organization will employ diverse, redundant connectivity. However, during a regional disaster, there is a very good probably that all of your connections will be impacted.

So what does this mean? Because of the multiple catastrophic events, there is not a single data center that would be able to maintain operations. Your only solution is to ‘fail over’ to a redundant data center. Many (but not all) organizations are using redundant data centers to account for catastrophic failures of their primary facilities. However, many are keeping the data centers within close proximity to limit the amount of communication latency so they can maintain synchronous storage replication. This is around 30 miles or so which makes sense, unless you consider Japan as an example. The destruction radius could be large enough that there would be a good chance of losing both data centers.