The data center, Y2012, and Space Weather

I’ve just been reading about 2012 and the possibility of the threat of space weather to the data center.  I’m going to expand on this a bit and also talk about how resiliency against space weather can also tie in to green data center techniques as well.

Space weather is a general term that refers to the results of solar storms, sunspots, and other such disturbances.  These upheavals produce large amounts of charged particles, the solar wind, that are normally shunted aside by the Earth’s magnetic field. In high activity periods, however, more of those particles get through the magnetic field and reach the surface of the Earth, resulting in communications disruptions and instability of the power grid, possibly leading to total outages.

The first step to protecting data center operations is to avoid depending on OTA (over the air) communications resources.  Fiber optic, being a non-conductive cable, isn’t vulnerable to interference from this sort of storm, although you have to remember that the electronics that operate the fiber can be. Satellite communications will be the worst, since they are more exposed to the weather, with copper based communications being next.  The answer here is to forget any radio based services and stick with multiple redundant fiber optic connections over diverse paths.

The second step is to be aware of the potential for power disruptions.  On the low end of the scale, this can cause power quality problems such as voltages out of spec or surges. On the high end, this can cause outright failures of the power grid itself.

This is where using green DC power in the data center can be helpful. In addition to its power saving efficiencies, the battery string of the DC power plant naturally absorbs transient voltage and surges problems on the AC power.  This isolates the data center equipment from the power issues without any need to invest in surge suppressors, as well as supplying backup power automatically.In terms of absolute power failure, a fully tested and operational generator with generous fuel supply is the ticket.

The last point is not to rely totally on any automation. All automatic functions need a manual backup and people trained to operate them manually.  The spiffy auto start generator does no good if you can’t start it because the automatics are out. The other side point to this is, make sure you have enough run time on back up systems to allow you to deal with problems that crop up. Having a manual control option for the generator does no good if you only have 15 seconds of carry over from a flywheel UPS.

These are all good things to do at any time, but if you use these when the space weather comes calling, you’ll be nice and dry while everyone else is drenched.

Vern, SwiftWater Telecom

data center facility engineering


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