How Japan’s Data Centers Manage Earthquakes

Today’s magnitude 8.9 earthquake has caused widespread damage and triggered tsunamis. There are early reports of some interruptions of telecommunications services, but it appears many of Japan’s data centers remain operational. We’ll continue to monitor reports out of Japan.

How do data centers manage earthquake risk in a place like Japan, where earthquakes are an ongoing risk? Nearly 1,000 Japanese companies use technology from WorkSafe Technologies to protect their equipment. The Valencia, Calif. company’s ISO-BASE earthquake mitigation products allow racks and cabinets to ride out even major quakes with minimal vibrations.

ISO-BASE has compiled a strong track record in protecting equipment at Japanese data centers through more than 10 significant earthquakes over the past decade. The product uses a patented Ball-N-Cone seismic isolation system consisting of two load plates with cone-shaped recesses sandwiched over a steel ball bearing. The design allows the platform to roll smoothly and evenly through earthquakes. The technology typically costs start at $1,700 per cabinet to install, according to Work-Safe.

The seismic isolation system allows full racks of serves to shift by as much as eight inches without damage. The key question in today’s quake is whether the magnitude caused movement that exceeded that threshhold.

Dylan Mason of WorkSafe provided a demonstration of his company’s technology in a data center in Washington state during this 2 minute video from TechFlash:

In many regions, the standard approach to earthquake mitigation is to bolt the equipment to the floor. WorkSafe says that this “rigid bolting” keeps the equipment in place, but can result in vibration that can damage racks and equipment.

An example of building-level earthquake mitigation is provided by Digital Realty Trust’s 365 Main data center in San Francisco, which installed a base isolation system in its flagship data center in San Francisco when the facility was retrofitted to house mission-critical systems.

The 365 Main building is built atop bedrock, and each of the 98 columns supporting the building are equipped with a special joint known as a “friction pendulum” consisting of a plate and rubber bearings that absorbs the shock created by seismic movements. In an earthquake, this will allow the entire building to effectively float above the shifting ground beneath it. The piping, cabling and utility connections join the building above the isolation joints to protect their integrity in the event of an earthquake. (See this video for an overview of a similar system).

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About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor at large 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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  1. Anton

    Well I don’t know who’s DC this is but it’s very bad. This can only be a DC from the 1990’s if it’s any newer they need to get a new DC manager. No blanking panels in the racks Cooling air vents are in the hot asile

  2. Mehmet Ozcanli

    Please search about Worksafe and Seattle Starbuks data center during 2001 earthquake. What happened?

  3. Kris Ritton

    @Mehmet, Please share your wisdom...

  4. Mo Shehata

    I have worked in Japan for 10 years in data centres and I can assure you that this article if true will have one or two example DCs where Iso-base may have been installed. In Japan most of the new DCs are designed with complete isolation and some of the large DCs isolate the DC floors completely from the lower floors with the plant and as such earthquake impact is minimised and they usually bolt the cabinets to channel bases. Some even use seismic raised floor where the floor itself contains springs and they bolt to the floor. I am yet to see a single Iso-base installation in Japan and trust me I have been involved with most DC projects in Japan over the past 10 years. As to how they survived teh earthquake, it is through excellent structural design!

  5. Kris Ritton

    Mo, There are over 2000 companies and their respective data centers in Japan using ISO-Base. I am confident that if you were involved in "MOST" DC projects in Japan in the last 10 years you would have seen ISO-Base... No doubt about it! There are literally tens of thousands of ISO-Base planks installed in Japan, and at a non-structural level (ie. not the entire building or room), ISO-Base IS the defacto standard in Japan (as well as for thousands of companies around the Pacific Rim, and around the world.)