The “Perfect Storm” of the title refers to two factors combining to produce the most un-reliable power infrastructure. The first factor is actually a “storm”; it is the change of our natural environment to produce much more severe weather. It wasn’t so long ago that it was almost unheard of to have a tornado in Ontario, yet now they are becoming fairly commonplace. Rainstorms are regularly becoming massive downpours, and in recent winters we have experienced severe ice storms, and the coldest February on record. So the weather is getting worse, more intense, is this really something we should be overly concerned with?
The second factor to this “Perfect Storm” is what I will call infrastructure maintenance. I live in a semi-rural area west of Toronto, and each summer various tree cutting contractors would be hired by the local electricity supplier to trim the tree branches back from the hydro lines. About ten years ago this routine maintenance stopped. Trees that fall against hydro lines are typically left in place unless they actually interfere with the power. Even broken hydro poles seem to be left for long periods of time. When we had a large rain/wind event in July 2013, and the ice storm in December 2013, we were left without power for days at a time. Each time, thousands of trees and tree limbs ended up on hydro lines, a direct consequence of the cost-cutting policy of no tree maintenance.
So when we combine the ever growing severity of our weather, with reduced maintenance and redundancy spending, we get this “Perfect Storm” which is causing an increased number of outages, of ever lengthening duration. So now we are now having outages lasting one, two, even seven or more days in some areas.
The Impact on Businesses
What does all of this mean to you, as you have UPS’s (Uninterruptible Power Supplies), correct? They will keep you running for 30 minutes, or maybe even a few hours, but that is all. Even before the UPS’s are out of power, your server room is likely overheating due to the AC being off. Then what do you do?
One alternative is to have your own generator(s). However the capital costs are typically huge, as there are equipment costs, permits and construction costs, as well as significant changes to your buildings electrical system. Remember, you will need to power not only your servers, but the air conditioning for the server room, as well as the office AC/Heat, lighting, and power. The costs can easily skyrocket into the 100’s of thousands of dollars, even for a modest setup.
A better solution for businesses is to have some sort of a DR (Disaster Recovery) site. This DR site may be in your regional offices, or a third party DR site. Typically you will then replicate your business critical data to this site. Keep in mind, you don’t need to replicate all of your servers and data to the DR site, just the business critical ones.
The financial advantage to using a DR site is typically the capital costs are low, and in the case of a third party site, you pay a fixed monthly cost, which is often more palatable to management than a large capital cost. Another advantage of using a DR site are that you not only protect your company against loss of power, but situations where the building is not accessible (fire, etc.).
Take ten minutes to just think about what you would do if your power was out for a day? What about two days, or three days? I don’t want to be a fear monger, but these are the types of power outages we are now experiencing in Southern Ontario. For some of our customers, a three day power outage would be an annoyance. For other customers, who themselves are under contractual obligation to their customers, an extended outage could threaten their ability to continue operations (polite way of saying “out of business”).
We would love to talk to you about your concerns. Even if you only have a few servers, we can provide a solution for you. What used to be only for the “large enterprises”, is now quite affordable for companies of any size. For more information on how Lanworks can assist your business with disaster recovery, check out our business continuity services.