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We Love Snow!

It’s been a great winter for us here at Fresh Roasted Hosting.  We love snow.  Seriously — give us a French press, gas burner, some fresh water, and beans from our favorite local roaster, and we’re set.  Servers … they’re a different story.  They don’t really care for beans (we’ve tried), they aren’t interested in the French press vs pourover debate, and they definitely aren’t big on water.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, as much as we love snow, utility power failures do happen.  No matter how many redundant connections you have, things can and do go wrong with the grid.  That’s why your web host absolutely positively needs to be prepared with backup power on-site.  It’s not enough to truck in a large generator when disaster strikes; that can result in hours of downtime while the truck navigates the snowy roads to the facility.  A genset has to be on-site, ready to fire up on a moment’s notice when the power goes out.

So what can you do about it?  For starters, make sure your host is using a tier II or better (the higher the better) datacenter.  This ensures you have a high level of redundancy for when things don’t go right.  You’ll also want to make sure your host uses a blend of bandwidth including at least three tier 1 carriers (with bandwidth providers, a lower tier is better).  That way, if one or two carriers have trouble, you’ve still got a solid connection to the Internet.

Dunmore battery backupOur first line of defense when the power goes out is over 1600 KVA of facility-wide battery backup power.  This is kind of like your UPS at home, only bigger.  A lot bigger.  A typical home UPS that you might buy at a store for $100 will probably be around 750 – 1000 VA.  Our industrial-strength battery system, by comparison, is about 1,610,000 VA.  That’s a lot of oomph.  And it has to be, because when the power goes out, load is instantly transferred to battery backup while the three diesel generators spin up and come online.  This is important, because generators take a few minutes to start and stabilize (after all, we’re dealing with delicate electronic equipment here; clean power is essential).  If your home UPS was a cup of really good coffee, then ours would be like chowing down on a few hundred pounds of espresso beans.

Dunmore load transfer panelNext up:  the generators.  We have three diesel generators permanently installed on site providing 3 megawatts of power.  For comparison, your typical $1000 portable generator cranks out around 8 – 9 kW.  A typical $10,000 whole-home generator cranks out around 33 kW.  Our three diesel gensets crank out 3000 kW, and they’re designed to run under heavy load for a long, long time.  And speaking of a long long time, here’s an interesting footnote:  some web hosts don’t actually have on-site generators.  Instead, they contract with a local supply company to haul a generator in on a flatbed truck if the power goes out.  While this is all fine and dandy for, say, an office building, it’s not good news for your website.  What happens if it takes the truck an hour to get there?  What about six hours?  What if the roads are icy?

But there’s more to a reliable datacenter than just refrigerator-sized UPSes and massive diesel generators.  If your network goes down, all the power protection in the world isn’t worth a cup of truck stop coffee.  That’s why we use a blend of bandwidth from multiple tier 1 carriers including Verizon, Level(3), and Zayo.  We blend them in with multiple tier 2 carriers including Comcast and Frontier Communications.  This means that with rare exceptions, if one carrier has trouble, your traffic automatically gets routed around the issue and uses the best available route to your customers.  And because we use only enterprise-class networking equipment from Cisco and HP, you get fast, reliable transit inside the datacenter as well.

Dunmore Catalyst 4500

Of course, no web host can absolutely assure you that your site will never go down.  No matter how robust a host’s infrastructure, things can always malfunction.  This is why if a host ever tells you that you’ll never experience any downtime, you’re getting fed a line of marketing fluff and need to run, not walk, in the opposite direction.  Still, some hosts still “guarantee” 100% uptime — and when you read the fine print, this only means that they’ll refund some of your money when your site goes down.  Because that’s a lot less expensive than building a robust infrastructure in the first place.

So enjoy the snow, Central PA!  Whether we get an inch of slop or three feet of the fluffy stuff, know that if you’re hosted with us, you’re already well-prepared to weather just about any storm.

Unless you’re low on coffee.

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