How to Keep the Lights on in Your Data Center

In the aftermath of the major quake, Tokyo and the surrounding areas are suffering from a power shortage mainly because of the nuclear reactors’ shutdown. Power, water supply, gas and other fuels, and telephone services were disrupted partially or completely, depending on where you were. Luckily, most data centers in the Tokyo area did not receive any major damage from the earthquake. But the power shortage may hit them hard.

In an open letter dated March 18, 2011 (a week after the earthquake), to Mr. Kaieda, Minister of the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, JDCC requested that data centers be given higher priority to receive necessary diesel fuels so that they could continue to run in the face of rolling blackouts. The letter is in Japanese only, but you can read it here.

I do not translate the letter in its entirety, but here’s a summary:

JDCC member companies are exercising power savings at their data centers. Most data centers are equipped with generators in case of rolling blackouts. But due to the fuel shortage, it is getting harder to secure enough fuel for self-generation.

Today, data centers sustain many important social infrastructures, including those in the financial, media, supply chain, and medical areas. Also, home pages of the central and local governments and email services are used to disseminate vital information to save lives at the time of disasters.

Please grant us the same level of privilege as communications providers to receive necessary fuel. At the same time, please grant us secure supply routes to receive such fuel. Finally, please grant us the same level of priority as communications providers not to get involved in the rolling blackouts.

As of this writing, no rolling blackouts were put in place in the special wards of Tokyo where most data centers are situated and the fuel supply crunch is being solved.

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In an appendix, they gave interesting information about the need for fuel for their data centers.

When all 50 data centers that require 10,000 VA each in the Tokyo metropolitan area fire up a generator, 2,000 to 2,500 liters (roughly 5,000 to 6,250 gallons) of fuel are consumed hourly. Each rolling blackout is estimated to last three hours.

As for the fuel reserve, some data centers store fuel for 48 hours and others store fuel for 24 hours. After eight power interruptions, securing enough fuel would become extremely difficult.

To transport this much fuel, a few large trucks are needed. If the demand happens at the same time for all the data centers, it would be a logistical nightmare.

If the San Francisco Bay Area were hit by a major earthquake, what would happen to the data centers? Do we have enough fuel to keep them running? There are many data centers in the city of Santa Clara. There is one under construction by Dupont Fabros outside my window. If the highways are destroyed and become impassable, and/or nearby fuel tanks are destroyed, data centers could not operate more than two days. Are we ready for that?

JDCC and I are talking about presenting disaster recovery lessons learned from this earthquake in an upcoming data center conference. I will announce it when it is ready.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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