Keeping the data centre safe in a disaster

Natural disasters are not a rarity in this nation and when you’re taking space in an Australian data centre, it’s important to consider a particular facility's resilience to events such floods and fires, writes Hamish Barwick

Australia's record of natural disasters — which can run the gamut from bushfires to floods and cyclones — present challenges for data centre operators, who are charged with keeping their customers' gear safe even in extreme events. As a result, Australian data centre facilities are often built from the ground-up with the ability to survive and recover from disasters.

The general manager of data centre provider Metronode, Malcolm Roe, told Computerworld Australia that the company constantly assesses scenarios that could affect its ability to operate.

“One of those scenarios is an ability to access the data centre which could be caused by fire, a bomb or terrorism threat," he said. An earthquake or a bridge being destroyed could affect data centre access; Roe said Metronode looks at scenarios where the company may not be able to get staff to the facility. “We practice how we would run the facility remotely and how we get staff to logon [to the data centre].”

Equinix Australia runs data centres that are staffed 24/7 the company's country manager, Jeremy Deutsch, said.

“The benefit of that is that not only do we have the capability to notify our customers about events but if a customer needed to access equipment, we have someone here at all times to help,” he said.

Equinix’s service desk team can use email and SMS messages to notify customers of road closures due to flooding or other events that affect access to the facility.

Beat the heat

Australia is the world's driest inhabited continent, and devastating bushfires are not uncommon. Roe told Computerworld that all of Metronode’s data centres are fire-proof.

“Bushfires cause two threats to the facility but again, they can be treated adequately by site selection,” he explained.

“Because we are using free air cooling, air quality is an important factor. We monitor incoming air and if there is smoke or dust in the air, our data centres go into re-circulation mode.”

Roe added that Metronode is now planning for its Australian data centres to cope with “much higher” ambient temperatures than in the past.

For example, its Melbourne data centre can withstand ambient temperatures of 47 degrees Centigrade.

“A few years ago that would have been unheard of but we have seen temperatures of 43 degrees in Melbourne. The effect of global warming is quite real and does impact [data centre] design criteria," he said.

Deutsch said Equinix, which operates in 15 countries on five continents, takes the local environment into account when designing a facility.

“We run over 100 sites around the world so we have a lot of different geographies to consider,” Deutsch said.

“When it comes to weather, we look back at the last 50 years’ worth of data. We review that [data], pick the [temperature] high point and design to that.”

Read more: The show must go on: How to prepare a business continuity plan

Deutsch said that the company looks at differences within countries as well as between countries. “What is more important is the methodology for how we design, rather than a specific temperature,” he explained.

When it comes to avoiding damage from bushfire-related smoke, Deutsch said that all of its data centres are designed with a closed loop internal cooling system.

“That means all of the air in the facility is recycled. We can continue for sustained periods of time in that [closed loop] configuration.”

Shaky isles

Although Australia is not as earthquake-prone as some other countries, some areas, such as Newcastle, do experience occasional quakes.

According to Roe, Metronode avoids building facilities in areas where there is a risk of quakes.

“Part of our [data centre] site selection criteria is to avoid high seismic risk areas. If you can’t avoid a high earthquake risk area, our data centre tenants double up their load. They will have backups or data volts running in other locations,” he said.

“If we did build in a high earthquake risk zone, there are special precautions that need to be taken in terms of securing racks. You can’t have a situation where racks start to shake back and forth and potentially fall on top of staff.”

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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