Tag Archives: catastrophe

Failure to transfer: Bumbling data center power reliability, the iWeb outage.

Vern Burke, SwiftWater Telecom
Biddeford, ME

I’ve just been reading about the recent iWeb data center power failure. Lousy power design and botched operations strikes again.

Even though specifics of iWeb’s data center power configuration weren’t specifically revealed, we can tell a lot from what actually happened. Due to a nearby fire, the data center operators made the decision to shift the facility to emergency power (an entirely reasonable move). The transfer switch serving one of 3 generators failed to transfer, leaving one third of the data center dark when UPS batteries ran out. Where do I start on the boneheaded tricks on this one.

First, we know that the 3 generators were allocated 1 to each third of the facility. This means no generator redundancy. It sounds good to say “we have 3 generators!” until you find out that they’re not being operated in parallel with at least 1 spare (n+1). Right idea, a total swing and whiff on the execution.

Second, it’s apparent that there was no manual bypass for the failed transfer switch. Were they expecting to have to shut down the whole 1/3 of the facility if they ever needed to work on that transfer switch? Dealing with a failed transfer switch shouldn’t be any more difficult than sending someone down to the power room to transfer the power manually.

Third, if they actually did have a manual bypass, were the data center operators informed by the monitoring systems that that section of the data center was still running from UPS and there was enough run time from battery to get someone to the power room to pull the manual bypass? This is a the big problem I have with super short run time backup power such as flywheel UPS. If things don’t go absolutely perfectly in the 15 seconds of runtime you get, you don’t get a chance for a manual fix, you’re going down, period.Of course, splitting the generators into separate “zones” makes the short runtime problem far worse, since it’s much more likely that you’re going to have a total failure with a single generator.

It’s apparent from the article a number of large name providers are doing a similarly lousy job at their backup power redundancy, judging by four transfer switch failures this year with major loss of data center services each time. It’s really a rather pathetic performance.

So, what’s the takeaway from all of this?

1. If you’re going to run multiple generators, run them in parallel and at least n+1. I don’t care how many generators you have, if you’re allocating single generators to single zones, you’re vulnerable.

2. If you’re not going to run the generators in parallel, at least give enough run time from the batteries to deal with the problems you know are going to come up. I don’t care how often you test, if you’re running single generators, failure is going to happen (with this configuration, they could have easily have had this happen during a test!).

3. Make sure there’s a manual bypass for automatic transfer switches and that your operations people have the monitoring and the procedure to know when to pull it.

In a substantially sized data center, the consequences of failing to transfer are a lot worse than doing things right the first time.

iWeb, data center bozos of the week (squeaky red noses are on the way!).

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.

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Thursday data center tidbits: Chaos at Facebook (again)

For more than 5 hours now, developers have been unable to make changes to the Facebook Integration settings for their apps. Attempts to change these settings returns:

Sorry, something went wrong.

We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can.

This failure doesn’t seem to be affecting apps that are currently running but it has dragged a fair amount of app development right down to a total stop.

This failure comes close behind the recent major Facebook outage caused by a runaway software integrity checker.


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Monday data center tidbits: Unhyping the cloud, Facebook INsanity checks

First up today is a piece about cutting out the cloud computing hype. The problem isn’t so much the hype over cloud computing as it is the rampant outright misuse of the term cloud, attaching it to things aren’t even remotely cloudy in an attempt to ride cloud computing’s coattails without actually making the effort to DO cloud computing.

Next up is the recent Facebook service fiasco. Getting your system to mark it’s own code as invalid and not hand the problem to a human to validate before taking radical action is especially brain dead. On top of that, now you have an error compounded on top of the original error and you have a cascading failure, all because of no sanity checking and no break for human input. Facebook gets our data center bozos of the day award for trusting too much in automation and then blowing it.

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.


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Friday data center tidbits: #datacenter failure excuses

Ok, so this one’s not so much an excuse as “bleep happens”. Northrop Grumman has apologized for the last major extended Virginia data center failure, sort of. Published accounts attribute the chaos to multiple failures of primary and secondary storage systems. From the article we get:

“In its apology, Northrop Grumman … went on to say that problems of this sort are not unusual with large technology transformation programs. ”

Um, yes, yes they are, when the program is being run competently. I’ve seen this excuse used a lot recently and it’s the one thing I could think of that will NOT inspire customer confidence in you. Northrop Grumman, this week’s winner of the special “bleep happens” bozo award.

In another example of how NOT to run things, Microsoft blew up Hotmail for at least 16 hours on Thursday. The automatic response “well it only affected a ‘small number’ of users” is nearly as bad as the Northrup Grumman “bleep happens” defense. Call this one “well at least it was only small scale bleep that happened”. Of course, how “small” can a 16 hour service outage really be?

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.


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Wednesday data center tidbits: VMware tap dances, RIPE and Duke make excuses

The funniest thing I’ve read all week is the piece about VMware dissing bare metal desktop hypervisors. The sequence sort of goes like this:

1. We promised a bare metal desktop hypervisor.

2. Wow, this is harder than it looks.

3. Well, the hardware on the average PC wouldn’t be compatible anyways so we don’t REALLY need to do this.

4. If we WERE going to do it, we’d do it better than those pansies over at Citrix anyways because we’re the experts.

When you consider I can load a bare metal server class hypervisor on regular PC hardware (Xen) without a problem and Citrix already has their bare metal client hypervisor, VMware comes off sounding like a petulant child.

Next up is a follow on to the RIPE/Duke BGP routing fiasco. It’s nice to know that it was a Cisco router bug that caused this “experiment” to go out of control but it doesn’t change the fact that NOBODY should have been feeding “experimental” BGP announcements out to the live Internet, period. Gives new meaning to the term irresponsible.

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.


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Friday data center tidbits: Virginia bozos the data center

First up today is the piece about the state of Virginia having a major data center outage. Here’s yet another catastrophe that’s the result of poorly planned and executed maintenance work (technicians were “checking for faulty storage equipment”? Do you not know it’s faulty or not BEFORE you start screwing around with it?). If there was even a chance that this could happen, it should have been done in a maintenance window well outside of business hours. On the other hand, it shouldn’t be surprising, considering this is the bunch that had rampant failures in their network because they didn’t bother to specify any redundancy in the contract.

The head of the Viriginia Information Technology Agency is quoted as saying sometimes failures happen no matter what you do. Not the kind of thing you want to hear from your IT people after doing something glaringly dumb.

The shipment of multicolored wigs and red squeaky noses is on its way to the Virginia Information Technology Agency, data center bozos of the week!

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for RELIABLE green data center services today.


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Thursday data center tidbits: “ventilate” the server, Microsoft bumbles the cloud

First up today is the piece about an employee getting drunk and shooting up his company’s server with a .45 .I confess to having had the urge to kick a server from time to time but never to shoot one. If this isn’t a call for cloud computing, I don’t know what it.

Next up is Microsoft botching their cloud computing service for two hours. I don’t know what to add to this except, thanks for doing your part to add to the perception that cloud computing is unreliable, twits.

Email or call me or visit the SwiftWater Telecom web site for green data center services today.


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