Lightning vs. Data Centers

The outages for Amazon and Microsoft in Dublin represent one of the most serious downtime incidents tied to lightning strikes. Although data centers routinely ride out thunderstorms and utility outages without incident, lightning strikes have figured in a number of past outages. Here's a review, and links that can help prepare your facility for lightning storms.

Lightning has figured in several data center power incidents. But there are steps you can take to prepare (Source: NOAA).

The outages for Amazon and Microsoft in Dublin represent one of the most serious downtime incidents tied to lightning strikes. Although data centers routinely ride out thunderstorms and utility outages without incident, lightning strikes have figured in a number of past outages. Here's a sampling:

Amazon: June 2009 - customers of Amazon’s EC2 cloud computing service were offline for more than four hours in June 2009 after an electrical storm damaged power equipment at one of the company’s data centers. “A lightning storm caused damage to a single Power Distribution Unit (PDU) in a single Availability Zone, the company reported.

NaviSite: January 2010 - NaviSite overhauled the surge suppression system at its San Jose, Calif. data center in the wake of a January 2010 power outage at the facility. NaviSite said the facility’s surge suppression system didn’t adequately protect relay fuses within an automated transfer switch (ATS) from a power surge at the onset of a utility outage during as thunderstorm.

Fibernet: May 2011 -A lightning strike doesn't always mean an outage. In May lightning struck a Fibernet Corp. data center in Orem, Utah but contingency measures successfully protected its customers from damage and subsequent downtime. The incident caused "minimal damage to Fibernet’s outside hardware and minor electrical malfunctions" but zero downtime for customers. Data centers survive these kind of events on a regular basis, but in this case Fibernet reported the event in an effort to showcase its resiliency.

For practical tips on protecting a data center from lightning strikes, see articles on the subject from The Uptime Institute and Caleb Tennis at the DataCave blog. Any other good references/advice on lightning protection? Please share in the comments.

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