This item first appeared on DatacenterDynamics.com (http://www.datacenterdynamics.com/focus/archive/2011/03/surviving-japans-earthquake) and is reproduced by kind permission.
Published 17th March, 2011 by Penny Jones
Imtiaz Issadeen was on the eighth floor of Japanese data center operator KVH’s office building in Tokyo when the earthquake, estimated to be one of the largest on record, struck around 2.47PM on 11 March.
Closer to ground level, in two data centers, one in Tokyo, the other just outside in Chiba prefecture, data center staff were lucky to be in what could be deemed one of the safest places to be in such a tremor – inside some of Japan’s most earthquake-proof data centers.
Imtiaz, the senior project director for KVH (a partner of UK-based data center operator Colt), said the earthquake measured a magnitude of 6 in Chiba, where it caused damage to oil refineries and other buildings, but only measured 4 inside the data center. As we now know, the magnitude was much higher than original estimates (late estimates were that that the earthquake actually measured 9) at its epicenter in Fukushima, about 220km from Chiba.
“We had to contact our staff in the data centers right away because we knew as soon as an earthquake takes place, the phone lines are taken over for Essential services,” Imtiaz said.
“We have the most advanced seismic isolation in any data center in Japan today, and probably the whole world. Our buildings shook a bit, but we have not so far had any problems at all. None!”
That said, KVH is taking the matter seriously, and provisioning to ensure it can keep its data centers running seamlessly throughout the rolling power cuts, limited fuel in the market and water supplies that can stop, in short, overall chaos that the earthquake has caused.
Measuring a quake
While it does not release data on IT space, KVH’s data centers are by no means small. Both are standalone buildings, according to Imtiaz, one is brand new while the other was re-fitted just 4 years ago. Sitting on one of the world’s most active fault lines, KVH designed and built each with the worst possible earthquakes in mind.
Portable maximum loss (PML) is the measure used for seismic risk analysis in buildings – a measure of 100 being the worst, and 0 being the best.
ABS Consulting carried out KVH’s PML testing as an independent evaluator. For its Chiba Data Center, which was closer to the epicenter, it measured a PML of 2.6.
“This is very, very low. It showed us that the building performed exactly how it was designed,” Issadeen said.
The Chiba plant, which weighs 39,000 tonnes and sits on 2 meter diameter piles to bedrock, has three different types of seismic isolators. A large drum-like solution which can displace the building one foot in any direction, spring isolators that can drag it back and lead dampeners, at one tonne each, which “like huge elephant legs” actually drag the building back to where it is supposed to sit after the event.
The seismographs themselves are situated beside the buildings’ sub basement which is on the piles and on the floor above, to give an indication of the differential measurements of each.
Preparing for power cuts
Power has been one of the big issues following the Japan earthquake. Not long after initial news of the quake, one of the nation’s main nuclear power stations at Fukushima started to experience problems. Explosions and subsequent possible meltdowns have left Japan fearing not only for the radiation that could leak from the plant, but for business operations, that are sure to be plagued by a lack of power as rolling cuts are imposed across the region. Some reports have suggested it could take up to two months for power provision to be back to normal in Japan.
“One of the first questions we asked following the quake was whether the generators had started, and if the power had gone down,” Imtiaz said.
No power failure was experienced and Issadeen third line of questioning, surrounding its backup resources, also put KVH in good stead to ride out more than three days of disruption.
“We had more than 103 hours of fuel in our underground tanks, which is good, and we have unlimited water because we have our own 150 meter deep wells, which can provide 400 tonnes of water a day, so we don’t have to rely on a fixed supply,” Issadeen said.
Japanese FSA like guidelines make it mandatory for data centers catering to the financial services markets to have 72 hours of continual operations given any event. The KVH operation in Chiba, hence, is fitted out to comply with such regulation, and in most cases, according to Imtiaz, exceed it.
“At the moment (at 3pm GMT on 16 March 2011) we have 102 hours of oil and unlimited water,” Issadeen said.
But while ports are still in operation, some roads in the tsunami hit region of Japan are currently blocked, meaning it is difficult for large trucks carrying fuel to pass. Issadeen said Japan has a stockpile of fuel, for such incidents, but trucks can’t pass because the roads are blocked by debris and fallen buildings.
“As soon as this is cleared up you will find fuel flowing again,” Issadeen said.
Issadeen does admit some companies may still find themselves struggling for some of these fuel reserves, once roads are cleared, but KVH has a contract with a large fuel supplier, and the proper dive way width and turning circles at its data centers to accept the large 16,000 L tankers that can deliver fuel.
“Most data centers you will find will only be able to handle 4,000L size deliveries,” Imtiaz said.
KVH Chiba Data Center also has provisions that will see its cooling work 24x7. “Unlike other facilities, our entire heat rejection and cooling system is backed up by uninterruptable power supply (UPS) power. We offer a very high density service – up to 10kW a rack – so we need to keep our data center cool. Shutting off power for even one minute is not an option for us, our cooling has to continually run.”
One area KVH has cut back on, however, is its lighting inside the data center, and its offices. People may be trying to carry on as business as usual, as Imtiaz says, but they are working with the minimum possible lighting to conserver on electricity and tide through the current crisis.
“We work from 8am to 6pm with no light at all, only natural light. We are lucky it is Spring and it is cooler where the air conditioning is not required,” Issadeen says.