Northeast Halloween Snowstorm. Power Outage Maps

Weather incidents, like the snowstorm that just dumped on the East Coast, send a shiver down the spine (pun intended) of data center operators.   30 inches of wet, heavy snow fell in the Northeast over the weekend and snapped power lines and felled trees.  As a result, 3 million residents and businesses were plunged into blackout.  State officials throughout the NE have declared that the economic impact, recovery time and number of outages will all be worse than Hurricane Irene.

Data center’s requirement for utility power is nearly universal.  If you are building or operating a data center you simply must have reliable, utility scale electrical power.  Generators, turbines, UPS systems, solar panels are all very good.  However, none of these technologies are substitutes a reliable utility feed or two.  As a result, a thorough understanding of the reliability of the local electrical grid and likelihood of an outage are key concerns for data center.

Edward Vielmetti, an Ann Arbor journalist has put together a terrific resource for those planning a data center build or those simply interested in the reliability of the grid.  Edward has assembled “Power outage maps for all 50 states plus as many other countries as I can find”.  Check it out at:

Edward clearly put a lot of work into this.  It makes fascinating reading.


Twitter takes down 50,000 square feet at QTS Atlanta

The Atlanta Business Chronicle (ABC) is reporting that microblogging giant Twitter has started moving servers into 50,000 square feet at the Quality Technology Services (QTS) data center at 1033 Jefferson Street, Atlanta.  Twitter conducted an extensive search before settling on QTS to provide data center space.  A number of factors are cited as contributing to Twitter’s decision to choose Atlanta and the QTS facility.  These factors include:

  • Twitter East Coast/ West Coast data center strategy that places infrastructure close to the majority of customers.
  • Geographic diversification
  • Twitter’s desire to improve reliability and speed to East Coast and European markets
  • Plenty of room for growth in QTS facility
  • Flexible power pricing structure by QTS
  • Plenty of available power at QTS facility.  120MW substation on site.  Plans for expansion to 160MW
  • Relatively inexpensive power from Georgia Power
  • Extremely reliable electrical grid
  • Potential Georgia State Tax incentives on locally purchased IT gear.  Twitter plans to spend $100M on servers and other IT equipment to stock the data center.

Twitter has experienced amazingly rapid growth.  Twitter started from scratch in 2007.  Four short years later,

  • Twitter CEO Dick Costolo pegged the number of active Twitter users at 100M. (Sept, 2011) 
  • Costolo also noted that growth is expected to add 26M users before the end of 2011. 
  • Twitter users publish 230M tweets/day
  • Twitter is ranked the third largest social networking site
  • Revenues of $140M (projected 2010)

During major sporting events and following major pop culture events Twitter traffic spikes dramatically.  For example, during the 2011 FIFA World Cup Final between Japan and the US, 7196 tweets per second were published.  During these high traffic events, Twitter’s data center infrastructure is sometimes unable to keep up with the volume.  For example, following the death of Michael Jackson users updated their status to include the term “Michael Jackson” at a rate of 100,000 tweet/hour.  The resulting spike caused Twitter servers to crash.   During crashes such as this, Twitter users are greeted with an error message featuring an image of a whale supported by 8 orange birds.  Unfortunately, there are few regular Twitter users that have not at one time or another experienced this dreaded “Fail Whale”

The Jefferson Street QTS facility that Twitter will be occupying is a truly massive data center.  Coming in at just under 1M square feet, the facility is the second largest data center in the world.  Following an $85M expansion that wrapped up last year, around 330,000 square feet of the 1M square foot total are white space/raised floor.  That leaves plenty of room for growth and QTS plans to double the available white space to a staggering 600,000 square feet in the near future.

The presence of Twitter represents another major victory for the Atlanta data center marketplace.  Twitter is a major, Internet scale consumer of data center colocation space and IT gear.  The presence of an Internet scale client in Atlanta will likely be used as a sales tool to bring additional large data center customers to the region.  The ABC quotes a Colliers International analyst as saying, “Georgia Power and the state’s economic development groups will likely leverage this kind of a client to sell the region to other data center users.”  

This is terrific news for the Atlanta data center marketplace.  The city and the region continues to solidify its position as one of the fastest growing markets in the US.

Follow my Twitter feed at @eric_gallant

Data Center Colocation industry is BOOMING! Vacancy rates plummet as data center operators struggle to keep up with demand.

If you’re looking for a snapshot that indicates the general health of the global colocation industry look no further than this report by telecom research firm Telegeography.  At a time when the worldwide economy is struggling to keep its feet, the data center colocation sector is (almost) embarrassingly healthy.

This graphic boils down the exhaustive data collected and analyzed by Telegeography for six major colocation markets.  In each of these major cities, during the period from Sept 2010 to Sept 2011, colocation vacancy rates fell dramatically.  In the case of New York City, vacancy rates fell from 36% in 2010 to 23% in 2011.  That’s a fairly impressive statistic on its own.  But when you consider that data center construction added 1.3 million square feet in NY during that same period the stat is mind blowing.  Hong Kong, London and San Francisco also had robust construction and show rapidly declining vacancy rates.

Also extremely impressive is the 16% vacancy rate in the Washington DC area.  (Down from 30% last year.)

The complete Telegeography colocation database can be found here (for a hefty fee.)

The best news of all comes in this happy statement from TeleGeography analyst Jon Hjembo; “It’s unlikely that the pace of expansion will slow anytime soon.  While operators are adding capacity, vacancy rates in a number of metro markets we surveyed remain under 25 percent.”

In the dismal days following the dotcom bubble burst, you couldn’t swing a cat without hitting an empty data center.  For those of you who were in the industry back then, congratulations!  You have seen a full cycle in the data center industry.  From bubble, through bust and back to boom.  Let’s all hope the new cycle isn’t a bubble at all.  Rather, let’s hope this is the start of a new golden age of data center construction that meets demand generated by companies with actual business plans.


“Epic” Geomagnetic Storm Slams Earth. Vital Electrical and Communication Infrastructure Could Be Damaged.

The NASA Space Weather Laboratory reported that a massive Coronal Mass Ejection (CME) struck the Earth’s magnetic field at approximately 2PM EST on October 24th, 2011.  The CME (solar storm) caused a geomagnetic storm that lit up the sky with dramatic Northern Lights (aurora borealis).  Observers have reported vivid auroras as far south as Alabama and Georgia.

Scientists measure the intensity of solar storms using the kP index.  Anything above a 5 on the kP index and auroras and other terrestrial effects are expected.  The Oct 24th storm registered a very strong 7 at its peak.  A very strong solar event!

Why should the data center community care?  Two reasons:

  • Geomagnetic storms can affect the reliability of utility power.
  • Geomagnetic storms can affect the reliability of satellite and terrestrial communication systems

When a CME strikes the Earth’s magnetic field it compresses and distorts the field.  This compression can expose high altitude (22,233 miles) geostationary satellites to solar wind plasma and intense radiation.  This type of exposure can easily and quickly fry sensitive electronic equipment aboard satellites.  Satellites in high altitude geostationary orbits include communication satellites.  (Data, TV, Image and some telephone transmissions) The loss of one of these satellites could affect day to day operations in some data centers.  In addition, disaster recovery plans may be impacted by compromised communications.

Additionally, increased solar radiation causes the atmosphere to swell.  Low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that are typically above the Earth’s atmosphere may be exposed to additional drag by the puffed up atmosphere.  It was drag and slowing caused by unexpected atmospheric drag that caused the early death of the 70’s era satellite known as SkyLab.  LEO satellites are typically used as observation platforms and are responsible Earth imaging.  However, in some cases emergency radio communications are handled by LEO satellites.

Technology systems on the Earth’s surface can also be adversely affected by geomagnetic storms. The distortion of the magnetic field that exposes satellites to the solar wind also causes the magnetic lines of flux that penetrate the Earth’s surface to shift around.  When a moving magnetic field crosses a really long conductor it will induce a current in that conductor.  These induced currents are called Geomagnetically Induced Current (GIC).  GICs can be induced in man-made technology infrastructure such as telephone lines, railways, pipelines and the national electrical grids.

The national electrical grids are usually already carrying as much current as they can safely handle.  When a geomagnetic storm adds GIC on top of that current, grid components like transformers and breakers suffer accelerated component breakdown and can experience catastrophic failure.

The destructive potential of a large scale GIC event was demonstrated in 1859 and is known as The Carrington Event.  In the Carrington Event, a massive solar storm struck the Earth’s magnetic field.  Auroras were seen as far south as Havana, Cuba.  The only significantly long conductors at the time were the copper lines that had recently been strung up for a new technology known as “the telegraph”.  When the solar storm struck, telegraph stations around the country burst into flame.  For days after the event, telegraph operators were able to disconnect the batteries from their systems and operate off of “celestial power”.  Experts warn that a Carrington scale event today could result in widespread power failures that last for weeks or months.  Damage estimates for such an event are measured in trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

A detailed report of the economic impact of a Carrington type event was prepared by the National Academies Press for NASA in 2010.  That study is available here.

Data centers and operators of other mission critical infrastructure should be aware that the sun is entering a phase of increased activity.  Activity is expected to increase until it peaks with the solar maximum in 2013. As a result, solar storms such as the October 24, 2011 event will be more common.  Let’s all hope that none of these events are as intense as the Carrington Event.

Caronet adding 15,000 sq. ft. data center space in Charlotte

The web hosting (Managed, Cloud and Dedicated Server) company Caronet announced last week that they are expanding their data center footprint.  The expansion will add 15,000 square feet of data center space in Charlotte, NC.  The expansion will also include additional critical power and storage.

The expansion is scheduled to wrap up in early 2012 and will bring Caronet’s total data center space to 40,000 square feet across 4 data centers. 

Caronet is best known for providing solutions to the internet gaming industry and offers a variety of “Engineered Hosting” solutions.

Do “Cool Roofs” contribute to global warming?

One of the mainstays of the green building movement is the “cool roof”.  The concept behind these roofs is fairly simple; buildings that reflect the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere rather than absorbing it are easier and cheaper to cool. explains a cool roof as:

“A cool roof is one that reflects the sun’s heat and emits absorbed radiation back into the atmosphere. The roof literally stays cooler and reduces the amount of heat transferred to the building below, keeping the building a cooler and more constant temperature. Imagine wearing a white or a black T-shirt on a hot day. By wearing the white T-shirt you will remain cooler than if you wore a black T-shirt because it reflects more sunlight and absorbs less heat. Cool roofs like a white T-shirt, keep the internal temperature of the building cooler.”

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu widely promoted the use of cool roofs in 2010 and stated that their use could help in the fight against global warming. Secretary Chu stated, “Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest-cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change.”

The US Green Building Council (USGBC) also supports the adoption of cool roof technology.  Facilities installing cool roofs can earn credits toward USGBC LEED certification. (LEED Sustainable Site Credit 7.2)

Some states, such as Arizona, have even mandated cool roofs for new commercial and industrial construction.

Data centers are terrific candidates for cool roofs because they generally have large, low slope roofs with relatively few features.  As a result, you would be hard pressed to find a data center constructed in the last 5 years that does not feature the trademark white roof.

I looked a retrofit project last spring on a 10 year old Atlanta data center that had a black rubber roof.  At first glance replacing that roof with a white cool roof seemed like a “no brainer.”  However, running   and climate particulars through the DOE cool roof calculator indicated that the cool roof would save, at most, $0.15 per square foot per year.  When I compared the savings to the cost of a new white roof I advised my customer, if you need a new roof because the old one has reached the end of its serviceable life, spend a few extra bucks and make
it a cool roof.  But don’t replace a good roof just to get a cool roof.
  I stand by that analysis.

Now that cool roof technology has been nearly universally adopted and fully endorsed at every level of government, a new study published in the Journal of Climate claims that, “painting rooftops white only minimally reduces local cooling and actually causes a slight increase in overall global warming.”

It turns out that white roofs have almost no effect on global warming or Urban Heat Island (UHI) effect because “Lower local temperature means less water evaporates and rises up to eventually form clouds” says lead author and Stanford University researcher Mark Jacobson. “The decrease in clouds allows more sunlight to reach the Earth’s surface, leading to higher temperatures

So, if your roof is failing and you want to save a few pennies on your cooling bill, a white roof maybe a good choice.  (Particularly if you live in temperate climates.)  But, if you think that your white roof indicates good corporate citizenship or that you are doing your little bit to save the planet, you may want to think again.

One study is never definitive when it comes to climate change.  However, it looks like the cool roof might end up in the dustbin with other faulty ideas (ethanol subsidies, carbon offsets, etc…) promoted by the green movement before the science is fully baked.

Facebook starts work to double its N.C. data center footprint

On October 3rd Facebook conducted a tour of their new state of the art data center near Forest City in Rutherford County, NC.   Construction is just wrapping at the massive data center.  Some of the key attributes of the facility include:

  • Approx $450M capital investment
  • Highly efficient (Design to LEED Gold standard)
  • 390,000 square feet/2 story building
  • Part of Facebook’s “Open Compute Project

Facebook has identified a number of reasons for choosing North Carolina as a data center hub.  These include:

  • Cheap power
  • Plentiful water
  • Climate suitable for outside air cooling
  • Tax incentives

Facebook took tour as an opportunity to announce that they would soon start constriction on a second data center on the property.  The next facility is expected to go on line in 2013 and will be identical (mirror) to Building 1.  There was also talk of a third data center at some point in the future. 

This announcement is yet another breath of life into an area that was decimated by the collapse of the textile and furniture industries.  Fortunately, much of the civil infrastructure that formerly supported these industries remains intact and can be repurposed for data centers.