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6/7/2015
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7 Data Center Disasters You'll Never See Coming

These are the kinds of random events that keep data center operators up at night. Is your disaster recovery plan prepared to handle these freak accidents?
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Hurricane Sandy: Generator Fail
Manhattan, like much of the East Coast, lost power as Hurricane Sandy came ashore over Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey in late October 2012. A storm surge of salt water followed, rushing up the streets and flooding the lower Manhattan and many other sites around the Tri-State area.
At 75 Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, home of Peer 1 hosting, it was a disaster recovery planner's nightmare. There were backup generators ready to go well above the water line on the building's 18th floor. But the same storm surge that poured into the building's lobby and filled its basement, knocked out the emergency generator fuel pumping system located there. Once under water, its electrical circuits no longer worked. (Part of New York's response to 9/11 was to limit the amount of fuel oil stored in office buildings.). So, as the generators began running out their limited supply of fuel, the company couldn't get fresh oil to them. Peer 1 advised customers of a planned shutdown of their systems within hours, as several employees made their way to the facility to help prevent any data loss.
Instead of a shutdown, Peer 1 engineered a bucket brigade to carry fuel oil for the generators. The fuel was lined up on the street, above, and carried by hand up to the up to the 17th floor, to where the generator's day tank was located. That tank and its pumps could deliver fuel to the generators on the floor above. Peer 1 customers --  including such as SquareSpace, a Web site development firm, and Fog Creek Software, a supplier of online project management -- provided manpower for the 25-member team carrying fuel oil up stairs to the generators the night of Oct. 30 and into Oct. 31. 
By lunchtime on Oct. 31, they'd filled the day tank and could take a break, eating a lunch that had to be delivered by foot over the Brooklyn Bridge, due to Manhattan's clogged streets. Neither the need for a bucket brigade, nor on-foot delivery of lunch, had been put in the Peer 1 disaster recovery plan. But no shutdown resulted from the storm.
(Image: Fog Creek Software)

Hurricane Sandy: Generator Fail

Manhattan, like much of the East Coast, lost power as Hurricane Sandy came ashore over Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, and New Jersey in late October 2012. A storm surge of salt water followed, rushing up the streets and flooding the lower Manhattan and many other sites around the Tri-State area.

At 75 Broad Street in Lower Manhattan, home of Peer 1 hosting, it was a disaster recovery planner's nightmare. There were backup generators ready to go well above the water line on the building's 18th floor. But the same storm surge that poured into the building's lobby and filled its basement, knocked out the emergency generator fuel pumping system located there. Once under water, its electrical circuits no longer worked. (Part of New York's response to 9/11 was to limit the amount of fuel oil stored in office buildings.). So, as the generators began running out their limited supply of fuel, the company couldn't get fresh oil to them. Peer 1 advised customers of a planned shutdown of their systems within hours, as several employees made their way to the facility to help prevent any data loss.

Instead of a shutdown, Peer 1 engineered a bucket brigade to carry fuel oil for the generators. The fuel was lined up on the street, above, and carried by hand up to the up to the 17th floor, to where the generator's day tank was located. That tank and its pumps could deliver fuel to the generators on the floor above. Peer 1 customers -- including such as SquareSpace, a Web site development firm, and Fog Creek Software, a supplier of online project management -- provided manpower for the 25-member team carrying fuel oil up stairs to the generators the night of Oct. 30 and into Oct. 31.

By lunchtime on Oct. 31, they'd filled the day tank and could take a break, eating a lunch that had to be delivered by foot over the Brooklyn Bridge, due to Manhattan's clogged streets. Neither the need for a bucket brigade, nor on-foot delivery of lunch, had been put in the Peer 1 disaster recovery plan. But no shutdown resulted from the storm.

(Image: Fog Creek Software)

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batye
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batye,
User Rank: Ninja
7/2/2015 | 12:33:42 AM
Re: Check your generators!
@kbartle803 interesting to know... thanks for sharing... in my books you could never be prepared 100%... 
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2015 | 3:15:00 PM
A narrow margin separates "chilled" from "too hot"
In no. 6, Outage by SUV, a commenter on Lew Moorman's blog post noted that a data center has about five minutes between the loss of its chillers and the start of equipment overheating. Does anyone know, is the margin really that narrow? I understand that computer equipment can operate at up to 100 degrees OK, but after that overheating starts to get dicey.
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/11/2015 | 3:02:16 PM
Diesel fuel stored at NYC data centers reduced by 9/11
KBartle, what about this? One of the unreported aspects of the Hurricane Sandy disaster, when New York and many places along the East Coast went dark, was that every data center in the city had a limited supply of diesel fuel on premises. That was due to new regulations, I believe from a former mayor's office after 9/11, that the flamable liquids stored inside an office building must be reduced. In some cases, that made the investment in generators irrelevant. Public transit was down, city streets were clogged and fuel delivery trucks had great difficulty getting through. There goes the disaster recovery plan.
kbartle803
50%
50%
kbartle803,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/10/2015 | 3:07:13 PM
Check your generators!
I was working at a datacenter in California that had power feeds from three different utilities, redundant battery backup, and a generator.  All three utilities went down when the same source all three were using failed.  We went to battery backup until the generator took over, it ran for about an hour until it overheated because the cooling system was rusted and clogged.  The utilities were still down, so we ran on batteries for another hour until we finally went dark.
Dave Kramer
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50%
Dave Kramer,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/9/2015 | 10:21:00 AM
Re: Move the backup site further away!
If I recall, the new data centers were New York (HQ), Houston, Seattle - but now realizing how hurricanes could still wipe out New York/Houston, at least Seattle might be safe from hurricanes but not Earth Quakes!?!  Maybe something central like Colorado or New Mexico where the environmental/natural diasters is less likely might be a safe bet! I'm located mid west, Saskatchewan Canada, and we've been hit with flooding in the last few years but in the lower lying parts of the Province.
Charlie Babcock
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50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/8/2015 | 9:07:39 PM
Move the backup site further away!
Dave Kramer, yes, it's a good idea to move the backup data center to a different site. But Hurricane Sandy told us just how far away that second site might have to be. Moving it across town or across the state might not have been enough in that case. With Sandy, disaster recovery specialist Sungard, had flood waters lapping at the edges of its parking lots on the high ground in N.J. The advent of disaster recovery based on virtual machines makes it more feasible to move recovery to a distant site (but still doesn't solve all problems).
Dave Kramer
100%
0%
Dave Kramer,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2015 | 4:58:07 PM
Re: Data Center Disasters
We were dealing with a large corporation that had it's own data center backup in the second World Trade Tower in New York. So when the 9/11 disaster struck it wiped out both data centres. 

Their new data centers six months later had their second and third backups in various other cities spread between far flung different States. Unfortunately it took such a drastic tragedy to make a new policy of not allowing a backup data center to even be within the same State - which is probably a wise move overall.

 
Charlie Babcock
50%
50%
Charlie Babcock,
User Rank: Author
6/8/2015 | 12:48:52 PM
When the fire fighting system gets triggered by accident....
DanaRothlock, Yes, part of the problem of disaster preparedness is preventing the fire fighting system, especially when it's triggered by accident, from destroying what it's supposed to save. There's been no easy answer for years. Halon was meant to prevent water damage to the equipment. Sprinklers, on the other hand, prevent Halon damage. It's a fool's bargain with fate.
Li Tan
50%
50%
Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
6/8/2015 | 10:56:52 AM
Re: Data Center Disasters
This kind of accident is rare but we need to be prepared for the possible occurrence. At least for the hosts in one cluster, they should not be located in the same building, or at least the same rack.
DanaRothrock
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50%
DanaRothrock,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/8/2015 | 4:00:20 AM
Data Center Disasters
I know of a couple data center meltdowns.

One was a lightning bolt that burned a one-inch hole in the side of the mainframe.


Another was Halon discharge in the computer room due to cigarette fire in trash can.  The Halon destroyed all the disk drives for mainframe systems.  Halon was then replaced by water sprinklers for big savings. 
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