Major Data Centers in Northeast Brace for Sandy

Major data centers on the East Coast have emergency plans in place, and are preparing to ride out Hurricane Sandy and keep critical communications services online as the powerful storm lays siege to major population centers.

Data center providers in New York, Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C. area said they are testing and fueling up their emergency backup generators, preparing to maintain services during any utility power outages caused by the hurricane. That includes having key staff on-site for the duration of the storm.

With virtually all businesses and schools closed – including major stock exchanges – the key focus for the region’s data centers will be maintain telecom and network infrastructure for emergency response efforts. That includes the Internet, as social networks have become a critical tool for residents tracking the storm and seeking to check on friends and relatives in the storm’s path.

Ready to Refuel as Needed

“For the coming days, we have made arrangements to increase staffing at each of our data center locations within the path of the hurricane, and all of our back-up generators have been extensively tested,” said Joel Stone, vice president of global data center operations at Savvis, a CenturyLink company. “In addition, we have already contacted and have put on standby our fuel vendors in the event that there is a lengthy power outage and we need to refuel our generators. And since we maintain short-notice diesel generator refueling contracts with multiple vendors at each data center location, our electricity backup capabilities are extensive. This permits us to supply necessary power to organizations that require around-the-clock infrastructure availability, such as online retailers, global financial services companies and healthcare providers.”

Government communications services are particularly critical during a disaster like Sandy. John Stratton, president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, said the company is working closely with many businesses and government agencies that are now preparing to protect citizens and ensure speedy recovery in the storm’s aftermath. “Our government clients at the state, local and federal levels are already playing crucial pre-storm roles, and we will provide ongoing support for the many businesses and government agencies that are now deploying,” said Stratton.

Hurricane Sandy’s huge storm surge is expected to cause major flooding, and some areas of the New Jersey shore are already experiencing significant floods. Many businesses in the region have backed up their data to off-site facilities to disaster recovery specialists, such as SunGard.

“SunGard Availability Services is on high alert as we closely monitor the path of Hurricane Sandy,” the company said in an update on its web site. “SunGard has activated our three-stage hurricane preparedness process and we are carefully following tested procedures to help keep our customers and employees safe, our facilities secure and our communications consistent. Please note that all facilities and data centers in the storm’s projected path have been secured.” SunGard said it would provide updates through tis Twitter feed as the storm progresses.

Assessing the Storm Surge Threat

Data center operators in the New York metro area will be closely watching the storm surge from Sandy, which is projected to reach records levels of between 6 and 11 feet. On Sunday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered a mandatory evacuation of the areas most likely to see flooding from Sandy, known as Zone A on the city’s emergency readiness plan.

Most of New York’s major data center hubs are located outside Zone A. The exception is 75 Broad Street, which houses data centers for Peer 1 and Internap, among others.

The carrier hotels at 60 Hudson Street, 256 Broadway and 32 Avenue of the Americas are all in Zone B, which would only see a storm surge threat from a “moderate” Category 2 hurricane. The Intergate.Manhattan, the new data center projct from Sabey Corporation, is also in Zone B. The New York Stock Exchange and 111 8th Avenue are both in Zone C, which would only flood in the event of a direct hit from a category 3 or 4 storm.

Several other major financial data centers are in areas of northern New Jersey that local officials say should prepare for hurricane damage. The storm surge maps from the NJ Office of Emergency Management appear to indicate that a Digital Realty Trust building in Weehawken is in an area that could be affected by a storm surge associated with a Category 1 or Category 2 hurricane. Digital Realty has done its own survey of the area’s elevation, and says its facility is above the area that would be affected by a storm surge.

Equinix has several data centers in Secaucus, which is susceptible to flooding. The company’s most prominent facility, NY4, is on slightly higher ground than the surrounding area.

Hunkering Down for 3 to 5 Days

Preparing for a storm like Sandy means anticipating that not everything will work as planned, and having workarounds in place for a wide range of scenarios, according to Jack Pouchet, the director of energy initiatives at Emerson Network Power.

“You have to start taking into consideration which items might not work,” said Pouchet. “Have portable pumps or generators just in case. It’s time to fire up the generators. It’s your call on whether you switch over from utility to generator power (or wait for a utility outage). You want to know that the generators are hot, ready and available. You also have to prepare for 3 to 5 days of no one being able to leave the building.”

Internap says it has stored extra food and water supplies for its on-site staff in its Boston and New York data centers as part of its emergency action plan. “We added more engineers and technical support staff at each data center for the duration of the storm to monitor and ensure infrastructure availability and provide ‘remote hands service’ for customers so they do not have to travel to the data center,” said Bill Brown, VP, Data Center Operations at Internap.

In worst-case scenarios, employee safety is paramount, Pouchet added.

“You have to consider your own safety first,” he said. “You can always replace a data center and restore data.”

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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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