Houston Data Centers Brace for Ike

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Hurricane Ike as seen from the International Space Station (NASA photo).

Hurricane Ike as seen from the International Space Station (NASA photo).

As the Texas coast braces for a direct hit from powerful Hurricane Ike, data center providers in Houston are making last-minute preparations to ride out the storm and maintain service for customers. Ike is currently projected to make landfall near Galveston Bay early Saturday as a category 3 hurricane, packing sustained winds of 115 miles an hour. The biggest concern is the potential for a huge storm surge that could inundate coastal areas. 

For data centers, the major concern will be power, and the likelihood that utility power will be interrupted by the storm. The Planet has two data centers in Houston, but both are on the north side of town, away from Galveston Bay. Those facilities house more than 10,000 servers, and the company is “covering every base to ensure that we are fully prepared to continue service to the greatest extent possible,” The Planet’s Kevin Hazard said on a customer forum.

“For data center power, we have confirmed our fuel levels and have brought in an additional 10,000 gallons as backup,” Hazard writes. “Backup generators at both data centers and our Houston headquarters are prepared to shoulder the power needs of the data centers and our downtown offices. We pay premium fees year-round with several providers to guarantee that we are at the front of the line if we need additional fuel. With our current fuel supply, we can continuously power our facilities for up to a week without any required backup.” 

Houston building codes require structures to be rated to withstand 120 mile-an-hour winds. The Planet said it has secured windows, doors and roofs. There are no windows in the server rooms.

The Planet is shifting staff to Dallas, where it operates four data centers, to be ready to provide customer support and monitor network operations throughout the storm. The facilities team will have staff on-site at both Houston data centers throughout.

“A set of our top technicians have volunteered to be part of the storm ride-out team,” wrote data center supervisor Eric Rice. “We wanted them to make sure their families were safe before coming in. Personally, I’m very glad to be in such a secure and well provided-for facility in events like this.”

Much of Houston was evacuated in 2005 when Hurricane Rita threatened the city. Rita ultimately made landfall east of Houston as a Category 3 storm. Houston data center providers, including CyrusOne, remained online throughout the storm. 

A more problematic storm for Houston providers was tropical storm Allison, which stalled over Texas in 2001, drenching the Houston area with nearly three feet of rain, flooding freeways and swamping 20,000 homes. The flooding caused service outages at some data centers and telecom central offices, including several located in basements of office buildings.

A repeat of that scenario appears unlikely, as forecasters project that Hurricane Ike will quickly move north after coming ashore near Galveston.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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