Storm forces Internet hubs to run on generator power

Manhattan power outage amid Hurricane Sandy hits critical communication centers, including Google-owned building

Two monolithic buildings in lower Manhattan that serve as major network hubs for the U.S. are operating on generator power, thanks to Hurricane Sandy.

The buildings, known as carrier hotels, are a 2.9 million square foot structure at 111 8th Ave., and a 1.8 million square foot facility at 60 Hudson St.

Telecom companies use carrier hotels to interconnect networks to allow data sharing and users of one network to connect with those of another. Thus, the two buildings are critical to the nation's infrastructure.

In 2002, Richard Clarke, then special advisor to the president for cyberspace security, described their importance in a speech.

Clark said, "Transatlantic fiber lands at about 10 different places in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Long Island and New Jersey that, after having landed, it all goes to one of two facilities -- 60 Hudson St. or 111 8th Ave in lower Manhattan. If that's true, that would seem to be a problem."

What is true today is that hundreds of domestic and international network connections are made at these two buildings. The close proximity to network resources has turned the buildings into major data center locations.

"It really is the heartbeat of the East Coast," said Ron Sterbenz, vice president of marketing at Telx, citing all of the communication activity that takes place in the two buildings.

Telx is major a data center provider that has co-location facilities at 90 Hudson as well as 111 8th Ave.

Michael Levy, an analyst at Datacenters Tier1 Research, a division of 451 Research, said that "111 8th Ave. and 60 Hudson are two of the most carrier dense buildings in the world."

"There is a high probability that your Internet traffic, every time you go on a Web site passes through 111 8th Ave. at some point," said Levy.

Google bought 111 8th Ave. two years ago, and has offices in it.

When Con Edison shut off power in lower Manhattan late Monday to protect equipment from storm flooding, it triggered generator backups at 60 Hudson and 111 8th Ave. The generator is powering the facilities right now.

Telx operates some 490,000 square-feet of data center space in the New Jersey, New York market. The company is running its systems at 111 8th Ave. building through the building's shared resource pool of 90,000 gallons of diesel.

Sterbenz said it had enough fuel to run until some time tomorrow, and that he does not expect any problems.

When asked what Google would be doing to ensure operations at 111 8th Ave., a spokeswoman said that the company "won't be providing any comment" about backup plans.

Sterbenz said there's enough fuel at 90 Hudson to maintain operations and fuel reserves were already on Manhattan island so transport through dangerous roads, bridges and tunnels isn't necessary.

There is no estimate from Con Edison on when power will be restored, said Sterbenz.

Internap, which also runs a data center at 111 8th Ave., said its operation there that is running on generator power. Company officials said Internap faces a more serious situation at its 75 Broad Street data center facility due to a flooded basement that knocked out fuel pumps.

In a blog post Tuesday afternoon, Steve Orchard, Internaps' senior vice president of development and operations, said that at the storm's peak there was three feet of water in the lobby at the Broad Street site, making the basement inaccessible.

Internap is implementing a workaround to get fuel to the generators, he added.

Regarding the data center at 111 8th Ave. Orchard said that the company "expects fuel delivery to the site will be possible prior to depleting on-site reserves."

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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