How the 'polar vortex' impacted data centers

Chicago during the “polar vortex.” Credit: Image credit: Flickr/akasped

Chicago is a hot spot for large data centers, including Microsoft’s massive facility there, but the temperatures in the region have been anything but hot this week.

I’ve been asking around to try to find out how companies that have data centers in areas impacted by the extreme cold prepared for the deep freeze. I haven’t seen reports of service interruptions so it seems that most providers were prepared.

Rackspace also has a Chicago data center and it activated its business continuity plan, but didn’t say it had to do anything special to protect its gear. Its plan made sure that enough employees were on site and included stocking up on food, snow removal equipment and cots, said Jim Hawkins, vice president of global data center operations and engineering for Rackspace.

“Weather related events are a common issue that we deal with. Whether it is the cold in the northern US, hurricanes hitting the East Coast, or Typhoons in Hong Kong, we handle them all the same way,” he said in a statement.

I had little luck getting comment from other providers – I reached out to Microsoft and Amazon, which doesn’t have a Chicago data center but does have facilities in Indiana, Missouri, New Jersey and Virginia. Neither company offered up any information though.

But Yevgeniy Sverdlik over at DatacenterDynamics had much better luck than I at getting people to talk. He talked to an exec from Latisys*, which has a Chicago data center, who said his company took a number of steps to make sure the extreme cold wouldn’t interrupt its operations. For instance, it turned on its redundant cooling infrastructure because it’s located outside of the building and liquid in the piping of the system could freeze if it’s not kept moving.

The company also carefully watched humidity levels. Swings in humidity can damage servers but bringing in dry, cold air from outside can impact humidity.

Sverdlik also talked to CoreSite, another data center operator in Chicago, which said that it made sure it had enough diesel, presumably for backup generators, and that it increased exterior security sweeps since fewer people are out and about, potentially increasing the risk of break ins.

It sounds like the worst of the “polar vortex” has passed so data center operators in the east are probably breathing a sigh of relief that they don’t seem to have been impacted.

Read more of Nancy Gohring's "To the Cloud" blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Nancy on Twitter at @ngohring and on Google+. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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