January 13, 2015
Sometimes a new year comes in with a bang, but here in Dallas you could say that it came in with a tremor. That’s right sports fans, we just had some earthquakes right here in the heart of north Texas. Actually, we’ve had a few in recent months but this is the first set that your truly personally experienced—in my own home no less. So there I am, sitting in control seat of the Crosby family media center—okay, my leather recliner, but you guys out there know what I’m talking about—when the earth literally began to move under my feet, or my chair to be more specific. Apparently we had just experienced a mashing of tectonic plates that registered a 3.6 on the Richter scale. Maybe not such a big deal for your typical Los Angeles resident, but big enough to get folks around here talking about something other than the Cowboys play-off chances for a couple of minutes—“Well, if Romo doesn’t throw any interceptions…hey, did you feel that? Like I was saying, I think we can control the Packer’s running game”. Ironically, the quake’s epicenter was determined to be the site of the old Texas Stadium in Irving, so make of that what you will. Naturally, this whole “earth’s unleashed fury” thing got me thinking about how these unexpected events may impact folks’ data centers and why I thought it was something important a few years ago when I started Compass.
If your like most people, your thoughts on earthquakes—if you think about them about them at all–are that they only happen in California and will ultimately result in the “big one” that will cut the number of continental U.S. states from 48 to 47. Unfortunately, there is pretty much no place in the country that is immune from some degree of seismic activity. For example, the 2011 5.8 level earthquake centered in data center friendly Virginia was felt in 12 states and did enough damage to the Washington monument that it had to be closed for repairs. And, as some of you amateur seismologists may know, many scientists believe that the New Madrid fault line, perhaps the most dangerous in the country, runs through Illinois, Missouri and Arkansas. What this means from a data center perspective is, that while earthquakes are still rare in many parts of the country, you should think about things like the sanctity of the chiller lines in the converted Piggly-Wiggly or warehouse building that you’re considering for the home of your next facility, just in case.
Although I’ve never been a huge fan of worst case scenarios, based on my own recent experience, an earthquake can potentially put a damper on your facility’s uptime stats if its not built to withstands the stresses placed on the site’s infrastructure. Here in Dallas, for example, there are 61 service provider data centers within a 30-mile radius of the epicenter of quake that rumbled through my family room (source: DatacenterMap.com). In other words, you can’t swing a dead cat around here without hitting one of these things, so what happens if our recent quake had a level of severity closer to what was experienced by Virginians in 2011? Nothing good I would imagine, since many of the areas’ computing hubs are housed in converted commercial buildings that are built to a lower “survivability” standard since most folks consider the Lone Star state to fall within the “can’t happen here” category—except we now know that it can. I would venture to say that only 2 to 3 of those facilities are built to code for survivability and continuous operations in this seismic zone. Imagine your embarrassment when you have to tell your boss that the disaster recovery colocation site you selected in that suburban “Big D” tech-flex park you’re your 1MW need was just put out of commission for a few days or weeks by a natural disaster. Life is funny like that sometimes. But, hey, at least you saved 5 bucks per kW on that lease!
At Compass we build all of our data centers to the International Building Council’s (IBC) category IV standard to meet the requirements for buildings like hospitals and emergency shelters that must survive even the most severe seismic events. Most data centers, however, have been redeveloped in or constructed as Category II structures. This is the same standard that applies to buildings like offices and apartment complexes. In other words, good if you’re a strip mall, not so much if you are operating in a mission critical environment.
Let me conclude by saying that although I don’t believe that “danger lurks behind every corner”, you never know when it might take a romp through your family room—or data center. Making sure your provider is building their facilities to withstand a seismic event doesn’t mean you’re paranoid. It’s a practical step to ensure the reliability of your mission critical facility.