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Cloud Computing's Datacenters: How Safe is Safe?

Recent Catastrophic Events Bring the Subject of Location into Focus

A question came up recently at a Cloud Computing conference in Manila: given the Philippines' history of natural disasters, how confident can investors really be about building mission-critical datacenters in the country?

One member of a special panel noted that there were no datacenter or call-center outages in the Philippines during the Ondoy and Peping typhoon disasters in late 2009.

Another noted, "if your datacenter goes down here, then you have a lot bigger problems than your datacenter going down."

This comment was, unfortunately, prescient given the ongoing disaster in northern Japan. The catastrophic failure of nuclear power plants in the Ring of Fire is indeed a bigger problem, while also focusing on the question of building datacenters on such dangerous ground.

Global Danger Zones
Without getting pedantic, we must nevertheless ask, "how safe is safe and how dangerous is dangerous?" Certainly California is also in the Ring of Fire, albeit not subject to the subduction quakes that create large, local tsunamis.

Seattle, on the other hand, is in a subduction zone similar to those of Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. And peaceful New Zealand's recent catastrophic quake proved that you don't need an 8.0+ subduction shake to have a disaster.

Recent flooding in New South Wales, Australia would most certainly have devastated any datacenters in its path.

The long, hard winter in the American Northeast and Midwest have shown how even the hardiest of cities can become paralyzed by the elements. And anyone from the American Midwest and South can tell you about the potential of tornadoes to terrorize and obliterate.

Where should we put all these datacenters, then? France?

How Important a Factor?
Despite the scary images and grim prognosis from Japan, so far the nuclear plant "events" are being gauged as a 4 on the 7-point logarithmic INES scale that tries to measure these things. The Chernobyl blast in 1986 is the only 7-point incident so far; Three Mile Island in 1979 was a 5 on this scale.

And in the Philippines, a TV poll from March 14 found that 69% of respondents were still in favor of completing a long-abandoned nuclear-power project that was started during the Marcos administration.

The Philippines has very expensive power, even as it uses only about 3% of the electricity per capita of North America, Western Europe, or Japan. The dear cost of electricity has been a dealbreaker for many large industrial proposals; without cheaper power, the country will continue to lose out to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

The country also suffers from a constitutional limit of 40% foreign ownership for most projects.

So basic financial fundamentals will probably trump plate tectonics and the weather when it comes to building the oodles of new datacenters that global Cloud Computing will demand over the next several decades.

Latency and Privacy
There are also the issues of latency and privacy.

Latency comes into play in financial markets in particular, where performance delays are measured in microseconds. For many companies and industries, "real time" means accounting for the speed of light and measuring datacenter proximity in terms of feet, not miles, let alone thousands of miles.

Privacy in particular and data integrity in general are big, politically driven issues that can require datacenters to be located in the country where the data originates.

What about your organization? How important is location with respect to a.) potential natural disaster b.) latency c.) data integrity?

Goto www.rogerstrukhoff.sys-con.com or www.twitter.com/strukhoff and shoot me an email or tweet.

 

 

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.