How the Internet Kept Humming During 2 Hurricanes

At one node of the industrial backbone that keeps the internet running, employees sheltered from the worst of Hurricane Irma in a stairwell of a seven-story building in downtown Miami. When the power had gone out, diesel generators instantly kicked in to keep the lights on and prevent the internet from going down.

In Houston, at another of these nodes, called data centers, Hurricane Harvey pushed waters so high that a live fish flopped in a loading dock, but the physical defenses held.

Yet another data center, west of Houston, was so well prepared for the storm — with backup generators, bunks and showers — that employees’ displaced family members took up residence and United States marshals used it as a headquarters until the weather passed.

“It wasn’t Noah’s ark, but it was darn close,” said Rob Morris, managing partner and co-founder of Skybox, the company that runs the center.

Even as millions of people lost power across Florida, and thousands of homes and businesses were flooded out in Miami and Texas, the vast industrial infrastructure of data centers linked by a sprawling network of fiber optics that make up the heart of the Internet and the cloud held firm. Although the storms disabled some cell phone towers and local connections, most data centers never stopped working, as backup generators and other precautions against natural disasters kicked in and, in some cases, the centers served as the headquarters for U.S. marshals until the weather passed.

Jeff Eassey, a data center manager for Digital Realty in Miami, notes his center never stopped processing and transmitting data. Although there are no legal standards for commercial data centers, the Uptime Institute rates the facilities on four tiers of resiliency for events such as storms, earthquakes, and power failures.

One key is building above the 500-year floodplain, notes CyrusOne president Gary Wojtaszek whose facilities include a data center in the mostly flooded Galleria area of Houston. The water stopped a few feet short of the building, which ran on backup power for several hours, Mr. Wojtaszek said. He added that “practically every single large oil and gas company in the world” operates servers in its data centers — an indication of how commerce of all kind relies on the facilities.  Read the article.

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