There was a controversial report issued in 2015 suggesting that as many as 45% of UK-based data centres had been adversely affected by natural disasters during the previous decade. The research further suggested that the maximum loss per data centre was in the region of £500,000. Needless to say, a lot of tech experts were not buying it. The reason is simple: we just do not have that many natural disasters here.
That doesn't mean natural disasters do not or cannot happen. They can and do. The wise data centre owner fortifies the facility against as many natural disasters as possible, and we’ll look at the different ways they’re are achieving this.
Before we get to them though, it’s important to note that data centres across the world don’t fortify against every possible scenario. They worry only about those most likely to occur within their general vicinity.. So for a data centre located in a flood zone but not an area prone to earthquakes, fortification efforts are going to focus primarily on keeping water out. A data centre in a typhoon zone is going to be fortified against both wind and water. It’s clear that the very first line of defence against natural disaster is to choose a data centre provider where the location poses the most minimal risk
Heavy-Duty Water Pumps
Data centres located in areas at risk of flooding are almost always outfitted with water pumps in the modern era. These pumps are more than capable of getting rid of water before it has time to accumulate. In addition, the pumps can work on both mains power and generator power, just in case it's necessary.
The smart data centre owner also designs the space in such a way as to keep servers up off the floor as much as possible. There should also be interior rooms or rooms on the upper floors were servers can be moved if water intrusion becomes a possibility.
Panes of glass can be a big problem under high wind conditions. Data centres located in areas where hurricanes, typhoons, and other high wind situations are common will be fortified with blast-proof panes made with either plexiglass or block glass. Another option is to install shutters on the exterior of the building; shutters that can easily be closed under high wind conditions.
Heavy-Duty Shock Absorption
In areas where earthquakes are common, data centres are constructed with heavy-duty shock absorption built in. Not only are the buildings themselves shock-resistant, so are the server racks. Everything is designed around the idea that an earthquake could occur at any time.
Auxiliary Power Generation
Building a data centre without auxiliary power generators is unheard of these days. That's a good thing. Data centres cannot run without power, so they need auxiliary generators that automatically kick in when the power goes out. Generators are powered by diesel fuel more often than not. These are located outside the building for maintenance and safety reasons.
The most effective fortification has nothing to do with buildings or equipment. It has everything to do with data. This strategy is one of redundancy. Any data centre without built-in redundancy is taking a significant risk. It might take only one minor event to put the data centre out of business.
A good redundancy strategy involves keeping duplicate copies of data at multiple sites in different geographic locations. This doesn’t necessarily indicate that data centres have to store data in other countries though. The geographic locations of the different servers just need to be far enough apart that a single natural disaster won’t take them all out.
In cases in which a company is running its own data centre rather than outsourcing, physical backups are used as a last resort measure in case all else fails. Physical backups are made at the close of every business day, then sent to a storage location out of the building, possibly home with a trusted member of the staff.
There’s an obvious downside to physical backups in terms of security. Therefore, it's a better idea for data centres to have built-in redundancy so that backups are not required.
Although natural disasters are part of the human experience, thankfully most of the world's data centres are fortified against natural disasters in multiple ways. It’s with some relief then, that our data is as safe as possible thanks to mitigation measures like water pumps, shatter-proof glass, and redundant servers.