Mitigating Natural Disaster Risk in Your Data Center

Posted by James Ball on Nov 13, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Most data centers overlook the importance of preparing for natural disasters. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires can affect your data center anytime. Your location determines the level of natural disaster risk. Here’s a closer look.



A Little Planning Goes a Long Way  

According to an IDC survey of Fortune 1000 companies, an infrastructure outage can cost a business an average of $100,000 per hour, making it clear that data centers need the proper setup to prevent or mitigate natural disaster risks. Otherwise, your clients might experience prolonged outages.

Real Natural Disaster Stories

Here’s a few data center outages caused by natural disasters in recent history:

In 2009, torrential rains caused heavy flooding in Istanbul. One of the victims was a Vodafone data center. Video cameras captured the servers going underwater which was later posted online. Customers started to lose connectivity. However, Vodafone was able to restore services using their robust recovery plan.

Hurricane Sandy, the most destructive hurricane of 2012, took out multiple data centers in the Lower Manhattan area of New York City. The hurricane caused basement-level flooding for buildings that hosted Internap, Peer 1 and Datagram. The Datagram outage caused business disruptions for high-profile websites such as Buzzfeed, Gizmodo, Mediate and the late, great Gawker.

In 2018, a severe lightning storm disrupted Microsoft Azure data center in San Antonio. The storm wrought havoc in two ways. First, it disrupted the power supply. Then, a voltage swell took out the cooling systems causing more problems. It took Microsoft more than 24 hours to resolve the issues.

Preparing Your Data Center for Disaster and Recovery

You cannot fully protect against natural disasters, but you can assess the risk factors that can affect your data center and plan accordingly. If your facility is on the west coast of the United States, you almost certainly need to prepare for earthquakes. For eastern and southern areas, hurricanes are more probable culprits of destruction and downtime.

You also need to ensure strategic redundancies of your data center which means that your facilities should be located in different regions that are not prone to the same risks. For example, having a data center in Los Angeles and San Francisco as each other's backup is probably not a good recovery strategy. Both cities can encounter earthquakes at the same time. Bu having one in San Francisco and another in Chicago is a better approach.


Take precautions to keep your facilities safe. Here are some areas to concentrate on:


Flood Safety

  • If possible, avoid floor levels like basements that can easily flood.
  • Try to keep your equipment elevated from the floor.
  • Have pumps to remove water fast.


Power Outage

  • Have backup power generators that can drive power during an outage.


Earthquake Safety

  • Properly bolt equipment to make sure it can withstand heavy impact.
  • For high-risk earthquake locations, base isolation technology can be a worthy investment, as it can decouple strong seismic vibrations from the structure, saving significant amounts of money and preventing downtime.


Fire Safety

  • Install and maintain fire protection equipment.
  • Test your fire suppression systems regularly.


Disaster Recovery Plan Essentials

Every data center should have a well-organized disaster recovery plan. It takes time and experienced personnel to create a plan that works for the various natural disaster situations. However, considering the business costs of an outage and the potential losses for a data center, it’s worth investing in a comprehensive disaster recovery plan. Here are some essentials:

  • Always have adequate backups to restart operations from a different data center.
  • Assess risks and create the recovery plan customized to your facility.
  • Make sure you have alternatives for internet connectivity with your internet provider.
  • Keep your staff trained for the recovery process.
  • Regularly run drills to test the effectiveness of your recovery plan under various scenarios.
  • Properly document your processes and also back up those documents.

For data center owners, a natural disaster is always going to be a challenge. But if you are prepared, you have a better chance of recovery.


data center earthquake protection guide

Topics: Planning and Design