Why The Internet Is (Mostly) Hurricane-Proof

As the city deals with the Sandy aftermath, data center companies in Manhattan are doing their best to keep servers online. But even if they fail, they're not taking the Internet down with them.

As Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast Monday night, the Internet was less severely damaged. Yes, Gawker, BuzzFeed, and the Huffington Post went down, but all in all the web marched on.

According to Reuters, all three New York City-based media companies had one thing in common: They housed their servers at 33 Whitehall Street. The building's basement flooded during the storm—effectively taking out the emergency generators that were keeping its servers online.

As much of Manhattan is still without power, rumors have circulated that some of New York City's largest Internet infrastructure centers are similarly in danger of running out of fuel or flooding. The two biggest hubs are located at 60 Hudson Street and 111 8th Avenue, where Google’s New York City offices are located. Both addresses are deep in the heart of heavily hit Manhattan.

But online Gotham is not going to go dark anytime soon.

"If the majority of operations [for a site] are located in one facility, and that facility is going down, it's hard," says Ron Sterbenz, the communications officer for a New York City-based data center company called Telx. "But many of the larger companies have a backup."

Telx, along with a handful of other providers, operates in both 60 Hudson and 111 8th Avenue. The utility power is currently out in both buildings, so the company is relying on generators to keep servers running. Fuel deliveries from a Manhattan-based provider have been scheduled daily.

Other data center companies that operate in the building, such as DataGryd and zColo, could not be reached for comment. But even if all of them ran out of fuel for their generators, they wouldn't necessarily take chunks of the Internet with them.

Most large Internet companies have servers scattered throughout different locations. In the event of a New York City server disruption, their services would be rerouted rather than shut down. It might take longer for some features to load, but mega-sites such as Google, Facebook, and Netflix wouldn't go down completely.

"The Internet is robust enough to deal with an issue with a provider or a location," says Sterbenz. "How you enter that on-ramp to put your content on it is up to you."

In a pitch for spreading servers throughout more than one facility, he adds: "I think the outcome of this will be that some folks will probably look at their strategies a little closer."

Update: DataGryd CEO Peter Feldman says fuel trucks are stationed outside of 60 Hudson and the company doesn't anticipate shortages. His back-of-the envelope estimate is that the data center companies in the building are consuming about 20,000 gallons of fuel per day.

[Image: Flickr user Leon Rice-Whetton]

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5 Comments

  • Chen_Dogg

    It's a great situation for those with contingency plans to shine. I'm sure this will result in wiser, more robust data centre planning in the future. Condolences to the families affected by Sandy (and the data centers).

  • 8not7

    Putting backup generators on the basement floor? Honestly! Though it may seem like an obvious place: when you think about it its pretty stupid. How difficult could it be to raise the generators one level?

  • Eric Rice

    The internet is hurricane proof because it was designed to be nuclear war proof.