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The Hardened Data Center

The Hardened Data CenterI read an interesting article the other day about storm proofing data centers for hurricanes and tornadoes. The author’s general thrust was that in light of events like Hurricane Sandy and the recent tornado in Oklahoma that there is now a heightened awareness among data center providers and customers regarding the ability of their data centers to withstand extreme weather conditions. Although it’s unfortunate that the severity of these events that have made people take a good look at the construction of the buildings that house their mission critical applications, this does not make these considerations no less important.

While you always want to avoid over engineering your data center to guard against the proverbial “black swan” event, the potential impact of severe weather or seismic activity is more widespread than you might think. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, 39 of our 50 states have moderate to high seismic risk, a fact that dictates that you consider your potential data center’s seismic importance factor (a standard of design that escalates depending on how important a building is after a seismic event. Hospitals have high importance factors, 7-11’s don’t). The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration list of the 150 most hurricane prone areas encompasses 14 states, while its map of tornado activity indicates that 42 of the 48 contiguous states have more than one tornado per year.

While data center danger may not lurk behind every corner, it does appear that there a very few potential locales that are immune from the potential ill effects of Mother Nature. In evaluating potential homes for your corporate computing gear its important that you examine the claims of possible providers first hand. Many providers state that their facilities meet Miami-Dade County standards (that mean that the site can withstand winds of up to 149 mph which is the equivalent of a Level 4 hurricane or an EF3 tornado). Just like in nuclear disarmament the key here is to “trust but verify”. Have a structural engineer review the plans of your prospective facility to determine if it does, in fact, adhere to the documented requirements. For those of you who may wonder if this is overkill just remember the old children’s story of the 3 Little Pigs. Two out of three of them found out their dwellings weren’t up to code until it was too late—and no one wants that.

This verification philosophy should also apply to your seismic verification. An importance factor of 1.5 is the requirement for buildings like hospitals that are built in areas of high seismic activity. If your next data center is going to be located near an area where earthquakes or tremblers occur more often than most folks would like, you want to make sure that in the aftermath there is at least one other building standing along with the local medical center. After all, Washington D.C. had a quake of 5.8 on the Richter Scale just a few years ago and it doesn’t exactly sit on the San Andreas fault.

Your data center is the fortress that protects your organization’s most important information and applications and you will spend a lot of time evaluating your alternatives. While you may do everything you can to avoid locating your site in an environmental danger zone, sometimes, bad things just happen. Ensuring that your new data center is built to stand up to the elements is an important, but often overlooked requirement. By doing your homework in advance you can make sure that your multi-million dollar investment doesn’t wind up looking like the “after” picture in an insurance ad someday.