Natural Disaster Preparation for Data Centers

August 13, 2019

Your data center is a crucial part of your organization and its ability to function, and keeping it safe is often a primary focus for your tech team. Unfortunately, many businesses often focus on cyber attacks and technical errors and forget about the more unpredictable things that can happen to your data centers, like natural disasters.

Prepare Data Center for Natural Disaster

From hurricanes and tornadoes to floods and earthquakes, natural disasters are just as, if not more, dangerous to your business as any hacker. Fortunately, there are steps your company can take to help keep your data safer during a disaster.

How Do Natural Disasters Affect Data Centers?

Powerful storms and natural events can decimate your data center, destroying or cutting power to your hardware and causing massive data losses. These losses can be lethal to businesses, with about 40 to 60 percent of businesses closing as a direct result of a disaster. Despite this fact, only 40 percent of companies reported having a disaster recovery plan in 2016, and 75 percent of small businesses admitted to not having a disaster plan at all. For many of these businesses, it is often a matter of underestimating the costs of natural disasters and their potential for destruction. Here are a few examples of natural disasters and what they can do to businesses:

Natural Disasters Affect Data Centers

1. Earthquakes

While very few data centers have been affected by earthquakes as a result of high architectural standards and built-in precautions, massive earthquakes can do severe damage to the hardware in data centers, crushing and destroying systems.

2. Flooding

Flooding by itself can be harmful to data centers, as one Vodafone data center in Leeds, U.K., discovered in late 2015. Severe flooding resulted in temporary power loss, causing some data loss and massive disruptions to mobile phone services in the area. The damage done by flooding can be even more disastrous than this if a data center’s hardware is located in the basement or first floor of a building, where floodwaters can easily destroy network equipment.

3. Hurricanes

2017 was reported to be the most expensive hurricane season in U.S. history, with more than 17 storms causing over $200 billion in damages. High winds, storm surges and heavy rains involved in hurricanes can be particularly deadly for technology, resulting in sudden floods that can destroy hardware.

4. Lightning

While lightning is familiar enough to seem relatively harmless to most, electrical storms have been devastating in the past. In 2015, lightning hit one of Google’s European data centers four times in a row, resulting in severe errors in five percent of the discs handling Google Compute Engine (GCE) instances. The incident resulted in an estimated 0.000001% of data being irrecoverably lost, affecting several customers. While Google was able to recover from the loss, smaller businesses would be significantly more affected by a similar occurrence.

5. Tornadoes

The high wind speeds involved in tornadoes can rip apart data centers and do massive damage to hardware. While the physical damage can be catastrophic, the lasting damage to a company’s data can be even more devastating. For example, a hospital system in Joplin, Mo., lost a data center to a tornado in 2011, resulting in severe data losses. While the damage was mitigated by the fact that the system had recently converted to an electronic records system and migrated most critical data to a new offsite center, hospital officials did note that if the tornado had hit before the transition, the hospital would have likely closed.

6. Wildfires

Wildfires are a considerable danger to data centers, especially in California. One data center team from Datrium Inc. discovered this the hard way in 2017 when fires got within three blocks of their data center, and they were unable to get to the center to perform backups. While their data center was ultimately unharmed, the business has since implemented more robust disaster recovery plans to prevent such a possibility in the future.

Every part of the United States is susceptible to some disaster, so it’s essential to be prepared for even the most unexpected events.

Is Your Data Center Prepared for a Natural Disaster?

This is the very first question you should ask yourself when considering implementing a disaster recovery plan — is my data center protected in the event of a natural disaster? If you don’t know or doubt your answer, its time to revisit your disaster recovery plan. Here is a general outline of how your business can start your disaster recovery planning:

plan for disaster recovery

1. Perform a Risk Assessment

It’s difficult to develop a plan when you don’t know where to start — this is why the first step of developing a disaster recovery plan is to perform a comprehensive risk assessment. Carefully review your company’s physical location, structure and data, and consider all of the potential disasters that can affect your data center, along with the likelihood and potential effects of such disasters.

2. Assess Your Current Protection

Next, consider what protections you currently have in place to keep your data centers safe from natural disasters. While many businesses usually focus on backup systems and disaster protocols, it’s also important to consider the physical location of your data center. Is the building structurally sound? Are there landscaping items like trees that pose a danger to the structural integrity of the building? How well is the building protected from leaks? Considering both the physical and technological protections of your business is an essential first step for improving those protections.

3. Identify Improvements

Compare your current protections with the potential risks facing your data center and identify any areas where your protection is lacking or could use improvement. Once these areas are identified, create a plan to implement these improvements.

4. Develop Disaster Checklists

Once the risks, protections and improvements are identified, create a step-by-step checklist for each potential type of disaster. This checklist should be comprehensive and should be updated regularly to keep up with your business’ current protocols and technology.

5. Implement Your Plan

All your planning means nothing if your organization fails to implement your new plan properly. Create a timeline for rolling out your improvements, and set up a training and review schedule to familiarize relevant staff with your disaster checklists. Additionally, it’s essential to set up a regular testing schedule for your disaster protocols — this way, your organization not only ensures that your systems are prepared in the event of a disaster, but you can also identify any deficiencies in your disaster preparations before they cause critical failures.

This outline provides only a general plan for how to go about creating a data center disaster recovery plan . The specifics will vary based on an organization’s location, financial abilities and other factors.

How to Prepare Your Business for Natural Disasters

The best time to prepare your business for a natural disaster is now — disasters can strike at any time, and the most important protective measures you can implement are those that you put in place long before the disaster occurs. Not only should you start educating yourself and your employees about the potential disasters that could strike your business, but you should also consider making improvements to your company’s current data center disaster recovery solutions. Here are some of the most notable hurricane preparation tips for data center managers:

protective measures for your business

1. Invest in Protective Technology

Data center hurricane preparedness starts with ensuring that your most vital data is safe. For many businesses, the best way to protect this data is by implementing protective technology that regularly backs up this data to the cloud or an off-site physical location. Additionally, several server storage cabinets are designed with disasters in mind, protecting servers from fire and water damage.

2. Implement Redundant Systems

One of the best ways to preserve your data is by keeping your network running as much as possible and avoiding downtime. Implement several network redundancies to ensure that one system failure won’t cascade into a full network failure. Organizations can begin by hosting data redundantly at multiple geographical locations, preventing the locations from all being affected by the same disaster.

3. Get Insurance Coverage

Having protection in the form of insurance can help your company recover from a disaster more quickly, replacing any equipment damaged during an event so that you can get back to business as fast as possible. Ensure that your current insurance provider provides coverage for any natural disasters that could potentially affect your data center. It’s also important to note that business insurance providers look favorably on businesses with disaster recovery protocols in place.

4. Test Regularly

Even the best plans aren’t perfect, but your business can help minimize mistakes and recognize areas of improvement by implementing a regular testing schedule. Of all companies that have a disaster recovery plan, 40 percent of those businesses run tests only once a year, and only 19 percent of businesses test their emergency plans twice a year or more, which experts agree should be the standard.

5. Take Physical Precautions

Taking basic physical precautions can make a significant difference in terms of equipment protection. A large portion of this is ensuring that your data center is located in an area that is less likely to be affected by a natural disaster and that the area is protected by disaster suppression methods. Generally speaking, it’s best to place a data center in the center of a building above the bottom floor, away from any windows and light objects that could go airborne in the event of high winds or vibrations. If it’s not possible to place a data center above the bottom floor, or if the possibility of earthquakes makes it more sensible to place a data center on a lower floor, installing pumps in the server room can help keep water from accumulating in the event of a flood. To ensure that a power outage doesn’t affect your disaster preparedness, make sure that any fire suppression or water pump systems are hooked up to a generator.

6. Prepare Your Generators

One of the factors that many businesses forget is how a disaster will affect their local infrastructure. When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, several businesses lost their backup power from generators. While some lost power because their generators hadn’t been serviced properly, many lost power because they ran out of fuel. Your organization can avoid this by getting your generator serviced regularly and by setting up a plan with an emergency fuel supplier like Foster Fuels.

By implementing even a few of these possibilities into their operations, organizations can make a significant difference in their data center’s tornado, flood or hurricane disaster recovery.

Contact Foster Fuels for Natural Disaster Preparedness

What If Your Business Isn’t Prepared?

While it is always ideal to be prepared for the worst, many businesses, especially new and small businesses, find themselves caught off-guard in the event of a disaster. If you don’t have security measures for natural disasters in place and are caught by a storm, there are basic steps that you can take to minimize the effect of a storm on your data center:

1. Back up as Much as Possible

With enough warning, a business facing an incoming storm can clone its servers to the cloud so that it can transfer operations in the event of physical system failure. If this is not possible, back up your data to a physical or cloud system to avoid losses.

2. Set up a Monitoring Plan

For the duration of the disaster situation, set up a plan so that multiple staff members are monitoring the system at all times, and implement a communication system so that everyone on the team can respond when an emergency occurs. This can help minimize downtime by providing an immediate response to a system failure.

3. Keep Generators Running

Power outages are common during storms, and can severely affect your business’ ability to back up data and react to system failures. Ensure that your company’s power supply is protected by obtaining emergency fuel for your generator.

While it’s always best to have a disaster preparation plan already in place, these few steps can help mitigate the effects of a natural disaster on your network.

Choose Foster Fuels for Natural Disaster Preparations

As natural disasters become more frequent and destructive, data centers need to take precautions to keep their facilities and data safe. Part of this is ensuring that your facility stays powered for as long as possible during a storm. Foster Fuels can help by keeping your generator fueled in an emergency.

At Foster Fuels, we take pride in our role as a premier emergency fuel supplier, delivering fuel to businesses to help prepare for oncoming storms. We also provide a variety of additional environmental services to help businesses recover from a disaster as quickly as possible. From environmental cleanup to compliance and report filing, Foster Fuels delivers reliable planning skills and experience to help your business recover and manage compliance after a natural disaster.

Contact Foster Fuels’ Mission Critical Division

The best time to prepare for a disaster is before it strikes. Don’t wait for a natural disaster to hit your data center — start planning now by contacting Foster Fuels and talking to us about our fuel delivery services and disaster recovery efforts. Call Foster Fuels at 800-344-6457 or contact us online today to learn more.

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