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Hurricane Sandy Update

We’ve pretty much covered all the backup systems in place at our Scranton datacenter in our last post.  In a nutshell, our shared hosting customers and billing / support systems will remain completely unaffected.  Our VPSes and dedicated servers are directly in the path of the storm, and we’re confident that our datacenter is ready to withstand the storm.

The reality is, most datacenters are built to take a severe beating.  With rare exception, it’s not a case of whether a datacenter can withstand a hurricane.  It’s a question of whether it can withstand a category 1 hurricane or a category 5 hurricane (and there aren’t very many of the latter).  The datacenter we use is a Tier II facility, which means it has a significant amount of redundancy built in.  Between the facility-wide uninterruptible power supplies and the four high-capacity diesel generators, the datacenter can remain operational for a lengthy period without utility power.  In addition, we’ve just received word that a tanker truck full of diesel has just been parked at the datacenter — just in case.

The biggest threat at this time appears to be our network connectivity to the rest of the world.  The nature of the storm means that much of Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey — all major connectivity paths for us — will see widespread wind damage and flooding.  This can wreak havoc with power and fiber optic lines.  But unlike a power outage, we can’t just plug in a generator to fix a fiber outage.  If enough critical fiber pathways get damaged, we may lose our connection to the Internet — even if the servers and datacenter are still up and running.

In the event of a severe fiber breach, we’ll be in the hands of the carriers.  There won’t be much that we or the datacenter will be able to do.  Our network providers will have to dispatch their own technicians to repair the transit paths.  And this will take time.  Because such an outage would knock tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of customers offline, such repairs are going to be completed as quickly as possible — but we simply won’t be able to make the process any faster.

In related news, I’ve seen quite a few web hosts out there claiming that their datacenters are invincible and that their customers shouldn’t give the storm a second thought.  Truth is, there is no such thing as an invincible datacenter or provider.  Claiming otherwise is reckless, misleading, and outright false.  By being brutally up-front and honest with our customers, we’re just doing our part to help build more savvy, well-educated web hosting consumers.

We’ll keep you updated via Twitter and Facebook as events progress.  You can also see a live HD video feed of Hurricane Sandy in downtown Harrisburg from our webcam right here (assuming that Livestream stops going down every few minutes).  Stay dry!

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