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Data centers under water: What, me worry?

Arielle Emmett | May 3, 2013
Given the dire warnings about climate change, some business and IT people are pondering this question: How should data center managers handle the crop of 100- and even 500-year storms, coastal flooding and other ecological disasters that climatologists predict are heading our way?

By winter 2006, the company decided to create two mirror-image data centers in Jackson, Miss., and Little Rock, Ark. In Little Rock, the company retrofitted an old library with sturdy brick walls, moving hardware and critical applications from New Orleans, piece-by-piece, to the backup facility by 2008.

Finally, by 2010, Entergy had completed its brand-new $30 million Jackson, Miss., data center. The company load-balances several systems including email between the two centers, Israel says. "Moving applications from New Orleans involved quite a choreography plan. Subsequent to Katrina we've had [major] storm events, including ice storms in Little Rock. But I no longer have to hold my breath," she says.

The company holds drills for hurricanes and storms every year "to get better and better at responding," Israel says. "One of the things we quickly recognized was how effective a dispersed workforce can be. Our employees can do a lot more things from remote locations and that has served us very, very well."

Not everyone seems to have absorbed the "take heed" message. IT shops in both Europe and America's Northeast seem to cling to the idea that superstorms are non-repeatable freaks of nature. In some cases, even among those affected by major storms, vigilance plays a chess game with artful forgetfulness as managers choose other IT priorities.

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In Florida, replication is key

Flooding, high winds and hurricanes are yearly occurrences in Florida, and data center backup has become key to local government continuing to function during disasters. Longboat Key is a barrier island with a winter population of 7,000 people that swells to 22,000 in the summer. Located on the west coast between Tampa and Fort Myers, the town decided to replicate critical data services in a secure mainland facility in 2004.

"Florida was just inundated with hurricanes that year, so everyone fortified their disaster recovery plans and efforts," says Kathi Pletzke, Longboat Key's IT director. "We had to assure that if a disaster were to occur, such as a hurricane, we'd need to set up shop fairly quickly and start serving the needs of citizens."

Longboat Key falls geographically into both Sarasota and Manatee counties. Tom Warner, Sarasota County's disaster recovery administrator, began conversations in 2004 with IT leaders in several western counties throughout the state. The result: Warner co-founded the Florida Technology Disaster Recovery Consortium, with Kevin Kryzda, CIO of Martin County, to help one another with replication throughout the region.

"The thought process was: How can we help each other because we are in Hurricane Alley, and what can we put in place long before hurricane season starts to ensure critical applications can be safe?" Warner explains. They looked at data centers to see which were hardened, which category of hurricane they could withstand and if they had additional floor space to house the counties' servers in their location.


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