During last month’s Supertsorm Sandy, New York datacentres, like so much of the city’s infrastructure, felt the havoc wreaking power of the storm’s brutal force. Datacentres are built with natural disasters in mind and the storm gave DC providers an unwelcome opportunity to put their backup systems to the test; the success these companies had at dealing with such forces of nature was mixed.
Major providers such as AT&T stood confidently secure in the knowledge that their $600m investment; including 320 technology mobile trailers and fuel tankers, were ready to be positioned where needed. Further preparations to increase their wireless capacity were enacted to see through the full strength of the storm. Some datacentres also deployed generators in the areas expected to be hit by superstorm Sandy and placed employees in the considerably safer eastern region, on standby or in hotels close to the datacentre, to ensure fast response when necessary.
Others fared less well, seemingly waiting to execute the recovery plans mid-storm and switching to back up power in the middle of the event. Datacentres, positioned within the regional and local FEMA flood zone maps, were reduced to watching their backup systems fail; as flooding crippled the diesel pumps based in high risk areas such as basements and prevented fuel from being pumped to the generators.
In the next few months experts will ascertain the long standing impact of the storm on datacentre systems and no doubt ways in which to improve resilience will be initiated. These facilities are highly controlled and designed to cope with disasters – but for many the storm effectively broke through their cocooned environment; one datacentre even experienced temperatures rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The loss of connectivity across New York had a significant impact on organisations’ internet access and web presence; Huffington Post, Gawker, Gizmodo and BuzzFeed all went down during the storm when their web hosting company’s infrastructure was flooded.
In many ways Sandy illustrated just how much we have come to rely on the internet. Record numbers of Americans turned to online video to view news updates and eye witness accounts, and social media was abuzz with the latest news on the storm and the resulting crisis. For those without access though – individuals and organisations; an essential service, a utility if you like, was lost. Of course the storm also illustrated that as important as connectivity is to us, like much of the infrastructure we rely on it is still fallible in the face of these types of disasters.