Shake Your Money Maker

January 1, 2009

Ever since I installed a firefox add-on that would tell me the physical location of servers I visit on the web, I’ve begun noticing that there’s a lot of servers in Los Angeles. Now, at first glance this makes a lot of sense. LA is a sprawling city with millions of people and an enormous telecommunications infrastructure. The real estate is cheap, compared to other cities of similar size, and it’s relatively centrally located as far as the population of the West coast is concerned. I finally realized why it bothered me so much: Earthquakes.

Most tech-savvy users will realize that shaking a computer hard drive during a read or a write could potentially damage your data or even ruin the entire drive. Certain laptop manufacturers (Apple and Lenovo come easily to mind) even have laptops that can sense when they’ve been dropped so they can put an emergency break on the hard drive to prevent this damage. Server hardware doesn’t have that luxury, as servers aren’t generally designed to shake, rattle, or roll.

However, what happens to those LA data centers during an earthquake? Presumably they use the industry-standard solid steel racks on a raised tile floor. I haven’t seen (nor did I come across during a short Google search) any data centers with spring-loaded raised floors. It’s also safe to assume there’s no padding on the servers themselves, as that would exacerbate an already difficult temperature problem all data centers face.

So what happens, do you think? I’ve never worked on a data center on a fault line, but I imagine that, when an earthquake hits, the servers shake just like the rest of the building. And I also imagine that some of those servers are performing reads or writes to their hard drives during that time. I wonder how much data is lost due to earthquakes every year.

At SoftLayer we have intelligently located our main data center thousands of miles from the edge of our tectonic plate, leaving our Dallas customers safely unshaken. Yes, Dallas is at the bottom of Tornado Alley, but that’s where our second genius play comes in. We’ve chosen Dallas instead of Ft. Worth! For those of you not familiar with the DFW metroplex: due to the area’s geography, Ft. Worth receives the majority of the tornado attention for the area, leaving Dallas relatively unscathed.

Even SoftLayer’s coastal data centers are located far from active earthquake zones. Seattle gets far fewer earthquakes than the more Southerly major West coast cities, and our data center in DC hasn’t been shaken in a millennium at least. So to all those companies that put their data in LA-based data centers: why shake your money maker, so to speak?

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