Six Considerations to Look for in a Data Center Built to Weather Winter Storms

Six Considerations to Look for in a Data Center Built to Weather Winter Storms

Not many Texas would have predicted that in February of 2021, temperatures would fall to the teens, and snow and ice would remain on the ground for days, stranding many in their homes. The unusual winter storm shocked the Texas power grid, resulting in more than 4 million reported power outages and wreaking havoc on businesses’ IT systems. Some Texans were without power for more than two days. 159 out of 254 public water systems were affected. Damages reported by insurance companies totaled $18 billion.

In December of 2021, record-breaking snowfall and freezing temperatures hit the Pacific Northwest and California. Just last month, record snowfall hit Virginia and Maryland after days of unusual temperatures in the 60s. The storm left drivers stranded on I-95 for over 24 hours and thousands without power.

Scientists don’t believe that these are just flukes. Research indicates that Arctic warming is stretching the polar vortex, which generally spins in a tight circle around the North Pole. This stretching vortex increases the chances of extreme weather in mid-northern latitudes, such as the U.S.

Ensuring Business Continuity in Winter Storms

With the likelihood of extreme and unusual winter storms increasing, how can your organization ensure business continuity in the face of power outages and failed public infrastructure? Modern businesses are transitioning out of running their own data centers due to the growing complexity of maintaining uptime during more frequent and impactful weather events. Partnering with a third-party colocation provider can alleviate the stress of protecting your data by outsourcing to an IT environment built with redundant power, cooling, and network service, without giving up control of your footprint. Furthermore, colocation data centers located a safe distance from your primary data center can provide a substantial risk mitigation resource for businesses that set up failover redundancy with hot, medium, or cold sites to support their disaster recovery plans. 

As a colocation provider that weathered the extreme 2021 winter weather in Texas and the recent storm in Virginia, we offer five criteria for evaluating a data center to protect your mission-critical equipment during winter storms.

1. Purpose-Built Structure

When looking for data centers that can endure extreme weather events, ask about the building specifications. Most colocation companies will provide details on the thickness of their walls, roofs, slabs, and their foundations’ depths. A colocation provider should explain precisely how the roof, foundation, and walls protect data halls from high winds, flooding, and heavy snow and ice, given that the structure was purposefully built to withstand extreme weather. Moreover, data center operations teams should be well-versed in operational protocols for likely and severe disasters for their region. They can showcase how their data center operates optimally and prepares on a day-to-day basis for availability.  

2. Fully Redundant Infrastructure

The most reliable data centers have fully redundant (2N) mechanical, electrical, and network infrastructure. This means they have fully mirrored systems, including redundant, diverse power feeds and power substations. In an outage, the mirrored system or backup systems can switch over for continuity. In other words, there is no single point of failure. It also means the data center has sufficient power and cooling equipment for every customer in their data center to have fully redundant power and cooling. Some data center providers claim to be fully redundant, but they don’t actually have enough generator power, fuel, or UPS support to back up the entire facility. When touring colocation facilities, ask providers to explain their redundant systems and ask about their track record. Have they experienced an outage before? Did all of their customers remain online?

3. Strategic Location

Even if a data center is built to withstand the most extreme weather and has redundant power and network connectivity, it may be inaccessible after flooding or heavy snowfall. Not being able to get your staff to your data center location isn’t the only problem with inaccessibility. If a data center uses generators for backup power, and these generators run out of gas or diesel, trucks won’t get to the site to refill tanks. Try to find a data center that is located near major access roadways that are more likely to be cleared before other more minor roads, and ask colocation providers how their facilities have fared throughout previous storms. Ask directly if their facilities were accessible.

4. Disaster Recovery Space

Some colocation providers build data centers with disaster recovery office space that offer a temporary base of operations for customers and IT personnel during an emergency. High touch providers often have all hands on deck during crisis events to deliver optimal facility performance and this means that staff and engineers will stay at the data center 24×7 until the emergency subsides. Customers should look for data centers that include amenities and accommodations to support disaster recovery, including conference rooms, kitchens, vending machines, lockers, and even places to sleep or shower on site. This ensures a core team from your organization has a protected place to work with redundant power and networking so the company can continue operating until the storm passes. 

5. 24/7 Support & Communication

Colocation providers should run their data centers as if weather events are imminent every day. When you tour prospective data center locations, take notes about the types of onsite employees, their maintenance procedures, and options for remote hands services. If you can’t have any of your own staff onsite, a remote hands team can ensure your equipment stays up and running. It’s also a good idea to ask about communication and transparency to understand how often data center staff will communicate with your company about maintenance, testing, and the status during weather events. Asking for references from current customers can be helpful in understanding communication procedures and communication frequency. Colocation providers should make it easy for you to understand what is going on with your data center footprint at any given time.

6. Continual Maintenance

Highly dynamic operations teams have core training and protocols that prevent downtime with regular maintenance and testing of all equipment. This can include multi-annual testing of A and B redundant power lines and generators on a monthly or weekly basis. They should also ensure backup fuel supply contracts are in place and fuel supplies onsite never fall below a level to support the entire facility in the event of an outage. 

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