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Some data center operators take their chances with floods

Arielle Emmett | July 16, 2013
Climate change is causing some IT leaders to consider relocating, or at least hardening, their facilities.

Since then, Verizon has had to extract 150 tons of damaged copper cable from lower Manhattan streets, its central office, headquarters and customer sites, replacing virtually all of it with weatherproof fiber cable protected in conduit. "If you take a fiber-optic cable and lay it in your bathtub, it probably will still work; fiber is submersible," says Chris Kimm, vice president of global customer assurance for Verizon Enterprise Solutions.

By replacing electrical infrastructure and bringing it up to higher floors, the carrier was able to get its own central office back online in about a week.

Some customers are following suit — moving critical infrastructure to floors that once housed rentable office space. And some are deploying new services, Kimm says, including mobile wireless, wireless IP and cloud computing solutions, to allow their employees to work remotely. Others are rerouting their telecom and data networks. "We even have some buildings that landlords have to redo, converting them from business locations to residences and deploying wireless services," says Kimm.

Even given all the damage, however, Verizon isn't considering moving its switching centers to a less flood-prone location. Instead, Kimm says, "we're armoring the buildings; we've done an evaluation of what all the risks are," he says. "We haven't gotten final solutions, but... you've got until [hurricane season starts in] midsummer before you have a significant risk of a future event."

Lessons Learned?
The impact of climate change and storms like Katrina and Sandy remains difficult to calculate. Not even climatologists can predict the frequency of extreme weather events as ocean levels and temperatures rise. But in the U.S., places such as Manhattan, Long Island, New Jersey, Miami, Virginia Beach, Boston, Washington, D.C., and even Seattle and San Diego are expected to see increased coastal flooding.

"I think it's absolutely compelling to look at the impact of recent storms, and also to look at statistics that show there have been more natural [severe] weather events, whether that's related to global climate shifts or other factors," says Jim Grogan, a business continuity and resilience analyst at 451 Research.

"Every single event, though, leaves lessons to be learned," he says. "Lessons come from the stories of the creative and innovative things data center operators did to keep their centers" going even in the worst conditions.

Though Sandy may have been a wake-up call for major data centers in the New York area to take some steps to harden facilities, it remains unclear how many will act on longer-term solutions — moving out of the city entirely, for example, or developing redundant and geographically separate facilities, or opting for third-party disaster recovery and cloud solutions.

Some larger IT organizations are looking at alternative locations for data center operations, says Grogan. "Multi-tenant data center operators in Atlanta, Virginia and other locations [are] seeing an increase of interest from customers in the Northeast," he says.

 

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