Data Centers

Disaster recovery: Earthquakes

It's hard to imagine a disaster that's harder to prepare for than an earthquake. Some "hardened" facilities exist, but the requirements probably aren't in your budget. Mike Talon reviews the basic recovery process in the event of this natural disaster.

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My last two articles in this series on natural disaster recovery have dealt with fire and flood. This week, I want to talk about the natural event, which is hardest to plan for—an earthquake. I once had the opportunity to visit a "hardened" data center. That is one which has been equipped and prepared to handle just about any conceivable disaster that might hit it. In addition to redundant everything—from fire suppression systems to data communication links—the data center was built with several unique features to allow it to survive an earthquake or other seismic shock (such as a massive explosion). These features included special engineering of the very ground it was built within (it was built well underground), and the mounting of all equipment on giant spring systems to ensure that the equipment could move without falling or breaking. It was an amazing sight to see, and no doubt one of the most expensive data centers I've ever had the opportunity to visit.

In the event of an earthquake, it is unlikely that your data center will be able to withstand the ground shaking as well as one of these "hardened" data centers. So how can you properly protect your data, and what steps can the average technology staff take to help get through this class of disaster? Of course, your data should be protected off-site, either by moving tape backups or replicating the data via some other method. But what else should your Disaster Recovery (DR) plan contain?

Without the enormous expense, outlay of personnel and equipment, and sheer floor space, it will be impossible to create a data center like the one in my anecdote above. Without this level of investment, there is very little that can be done prior to an earthquake when it comes to the data-systems themselves. You can prepare your staff, protect your data, and get ready for a potential aftermath.

If you live in an earthquake prone area, having multiple people cross-trained in key tasks is vital. Depending on the scale of the seismic event, you may lose some staff. Once the earthquake and its aftershocks have subsided, your DR plan must kick into action immediately to restore services first to all those who were not directly affected by the event itself—secondary locations or backup facilities. For all employees within the earthquake zone, there are much larger concerns than the availability of their workstations and data.

Secondary facilities will need to be pressed into service to host data-systems. Hardware manufacturers will need to expedite shipments of new equipment; however, the time that it takes will depend on how badly shipping systems have been disrupted.

Returning to your original site will probably take some time. If you hope to retrieve any undamaged equipment, recovery efforts will need to wait until safety inspections and/or rebuilding of facilities are completed. After that, you can begin to restore equipment and data, and eventually restore your operations in conjunction with Human Resources and Facilities.

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