How Japan's data centers survived the earthquake

No data centers were knocked offline but fuel and other supplies were in short supply

By , IDG News Service |  Data Center, japan earthquake

Smart construction and good planning allowed Japan's data centers to escape virtually unharmed from the massive earthquake that rocked the country in March, a Japanese data center executive said Thursday.

Operators there had to grapple with blackouts and shortages of generator fuel and equipment. They have also fought hard to be exempt from nationwide power caps that go into effect Friday. But despite enduring the biggest earthquake in recorded history, none of Japan's data centers were severely damaged or knocked offline by the disaster, the executive said.

"So far there has been no critical damage reported to the Japan Data Center Council," said Atsushi Yamanaka, a general manager with data center operations company IDC Frontier, who gave a talk at the DatacenterDynamics conference in San Francisco about the impact of the quake.

IDC Frontier is a subsidiary of Yahoo Japan. It operates Yahoo's data centers in the country and those of other clients. Yamanaka is also a member of JDCC, an association for operators and suppliers.

Data centers were hit with three major events: the earthquake itself, the tsunami that crippled nuclear power stations along the northeast coast, and power shortages that resulted from the crippled nuclear plants.

Most data centers in Japan exceed the country's already-strict building codes and incurred only minor damage when the earthquake hit, Yamanaka said. Modern data centers in Japan are built on giant "shock absorbers" -- isolators made from metal and rubber on which buildings "float" while the ground beneath shakes from side to side.

Some data centers also have floor-level and rack-level isolators. In addition, all server racks, cooling equipment and other gear is secured firmly to the floor. "I see some U.S. data centers with racks just sitting on the floor, and you don't see that in Japan," he said.

The shock absorbers are most effective at the building level, Yamanaka said, and some of those at the rack-level did not work during the earthquake. Nevertheless, he said, only five server racks were reported critically damaged in all of Japan's data centers.

Another mitigating factor was that 70 percent of Japan's data centers are in the Tokyo region, which escaped relatively lightly. There are no data centers in the northeast where the tsunami hit, in part because that's precisely where tsunamis are expected. Nevertheless, the ground shook quite violently in Tokyo, rocking up to 10 centimeters to the right and left for almost two minutes.

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