Recounting Hurricane Preparedness Tips as Arthur Threatens Fourth of July Plans

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A little more than a month ago we published a blog post titled, “Conditions are Favorable for a Mild Hurricane Season in 2014 – Maybe.” I’m very glad now that we tagged on that “maybe.”

As I type this on Wednesday, July 2, Tropical Storm Arthur is bearing down on North Carolina, threatening Fourth of July plans along the East Coast. Just a few minutes ago I heard a radio news report that officials in Boston are mulling whether to move the big July 4 Boston Pops concert and fireworks show to Friday, July 3. The Pops concert is a huge event, attracting hundreds of thousands of spectators – it’s not something that you reschedule on a whim.

Data centers, of course, have to operate around the clock – hurricane or no. With Arthur looming, this seemed like a good time, then, to recap some of our previous hurricane preparedness coverage.

Of course UPS systems are a must to ride out any power outages until your generators kick in. Ronnie Bulanek knows this well, being based in Houston. He is VP of Technology for BusinessSuites, which provides offices in some 30 locations to small and medium-sized businesses as well as larger enterprises. I spoke with him at an event in Las Vegas and he had this to say:

 “We have commercial power on one side of the feed and we use the APC [UPSs] as a buffer for power conditioning between commercial power and backup power,” he says. “To date, we’ve had no problem.”

That’s saying a lot, given the multiple hurricanes he’s seen in Houston over the last 5 to 10 years, including Hurricane Ike in 2008. “A couple million people were out of power. We were able to work through it with a combination of generators and backup power systems without losing any servers during the transition from battery power to generator power and then back on to the commercial grid,” Bulanek says. “It was a great testament to the power conditioning aspects of the APC, which is the bang for the buck that I’m looking for.”

Last year in advance of hurricane season Michael Maiello offered this post with some advice for how to make sure your UPSs are up to snuff. That includes making sure all the batteries are in good shape, a task that is much easier with managed UPSs. Maiello also offered this advice:

It’s also a good idea to periodically take stock of any changes in your IT environment in the years since your UPSs were installed. There’s a good chance your IT load has increased, meaning a larger UPS, additional batteries or units maybe needed to support the increased load and maintain desired runtime.

You may also find that some equipment has become more critical. For example, if you’re utilizing cloud-based applications and resources, the network equipment that provides a connection to the cloud suddenly becomes far more important for business productivity. To ensure continuity choose a UPS that will give you enough runtime during an extended power outage.

We had a couple of posts related to lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, including one from Barry Rimler. He discussed the role of data center design in surviving hurricanes unscathed, including this:

Uncontrolled water is, obviously, a risk to any data center. That’s why most companies have done a good job of getting IT infrastructure and vulnerable data center network assets out of the basement and even above the first floor.  However many firms have left behind a large portion of the supporting, so called “grey space” infrastructure, including electrical switchboards, and switchgear, and essential mechanical equipment such as pumps and chillers.

The experience during Sandy reasserts that modern grey space infrastructure is just as susceptible to water damage as a server. It’s probably time that a greater level of consideration be given to moving all of the data center’s physical assets out of the lowest levels of the basement and in some cases, even off the first floor of a building, leaving behind only those electrical and mechanical assets that can safely withstand and remain operational through and after an inundation.

A year after Sandy, we published still more lessons from the storm, including these:

Regular testing of generators under load helps to ensure that the generators will function when called upon. Regular generator maintenance on items like fuel oil filters is also crucial. The same goes for maintenance of the uninterruptible power supply system…

Also crucial is having adequate plans for fuel once the onsite supply is exhausted. What’s more, facility managers should consider having a backup strategy in case the generator fails. Sources said that it was harder to get portable generators in the days after Hurricane Sandy than it was to get fuel.

Here’s hoping Arthur tracks out to sea and we all enjoy the July 4 holiday as usual – and that your data center likewise rides out the storm unscathed. But we hope you’ll put these tips to good use nonetheless.


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