Hurricane Irene is on her way. Is your data center ready?

Hurricane Irene is threatening much of the eastern coast of the United States, and thus, threatening many data centers in its path.

I live on the southeastern coast of North Carolina. You know, the area that’s currently in the bull’s eye of Hurricane Irene’s projected landfall. In the next day or two, I’ll need to start preparing for this massive storm unless Irene veers onto a much-hoped for new path that puts her back out to sea.

[Hurricane Irene: Checklist for protecting your technology]

The trouble with Irene is that she’s big and gaining strength. The weatherman I listened to this morning told viewers her size could get as big as Texas. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s latest report (as of Tuesday morning, eastern time) says Irene has maximum sustained winds that are near 100 mph, with higher gusts. She’s a Category 2 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, additional strengthening is expected in the next two days, and Irene could become a major hurricane later today or on Wednesday.

Wherever she lands (hopefully not in my backyard), Irene is likely to have major impact to businesses up and down the east coast. Is your data center prepared?

Data center facilities in hurricane zones should be already hardened -- the buildings should be equipped with hurricane shields for all windows and doors, there should be pumping equipment to combat flooding as well as independent power systems. Potable water and other necessary supplies need to be stockpiled. Of course, businesses should also have comprehensive disaster recovery plans.

Just recently, Emergency Management published this article on how the Altamonte Springs, Fla., city government upped the ante on it data center hurricane preparedness. The story is quite interesting.

For example, during 2004, in which hurricanes Jeanne, Charley and Frances all hit Florida in a period of less than two months, the city – located just north of Orlando and about 30 miles from the coast – had to perform some mighty work to keep data operations safe. Because the city’s data center was located in City Hall (which was not hardened and thus vulnerable to hurricane damage) the IT staff had to dismantle the data center, box up the equipment, and relocate it all into a decommissioned water tank before each hurricane. That’s right… a water tank, which had 8-inch thick concrete walls and was designed to hold 770,000 gallons of water.

While the equipment was protected, it wasn’t accessible. Not the most ideal situation.

That busy hurricane year prompted the city to develop and begin a multiyear plan for technology and disaster recovery planning that would provide continuity of operations during future storms and power outages. Surprising (or not) the city moved its IT operations into a permanent, hardened center – the water tank. The structure had been modified with buildings added onto two sides of the tank and the water tank retrofitted to house the server room and data center area.

The tanked-out data center hasn’t yet been tested, but Irene may give it a run for its money. While forecasters are predicting Irene will skirt Florida’s coast, it’s likely that Altamonte Springs and its data center will feel Irene’s wrath.

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