Reducing the IT impact of power outages

Author and DR expert Jon William Toigo shares specific tips for avoiding data disruptions during power outages, such as checking alternative power sources ahead of time.

Editor's note: In light of the power outages that struck so many Northeastern U.S. residents in the summer of 2003, we asked author and DR expert Jon William Toigo whether or not there were specific things IT professionals should do to prevent data disruption or downtime when the power goes out. Read his comments here, along with answers to a few other questions we posed on blackouts, disaster recovery and ways to prepare for the next...

disaster that could impact your IT operations.


Power protection has always been a prerequisite for resilient computing and a common-sense step for anyone who depends on IT, lights, environmental controls (or just about anything else that is electricity-driven for their workplace). Power protection planning is an integral part of disaster recovery planning and doesn't require a degree in electrical engineering to figure out.

I noted in my last Disaster Recovery Planning book that the USA has the electricity transport system of a Third World country. Our grids (three, that sort of work together to give the appearance of one) are fragile and prone to problems.

We could upgrade the grid system, but no one wants the job or its expense. The money in the utility industry is in power generation, not transport. Transport is where all the lawsuits are (think "cancer clusters" associated with areas in and around above-ground power lines).

If you are fortunate to have a facility that is within an acceptable vicinity of two (or more) power substations, it is a good idea to obtain two separate services as a safeguard against a backhoe, trainwreck or other calamity that disables one of your service providers.

Within your facilities, you have a lot of work to do. With the help of an electrician, you can isolate, and in some cases make redundant, the circuits used for critical infrastructure. Isolation is important to prevent EMI and RFI interference [Editor's note: electromagnetic interference radio frequency interference] and other power problems that can wreck sensitive electronics or introduce annoying data or equipment operation errors.

Next, you need a battle plan for getting your infrastructure over the inevitable and occasional outages, dips and spikes in power supply. Here in Florida, without in-line battery backups to key servers, my company would go up and down daily with the thunderstorms that roll in off the Gulf of Mexico.

Note that there is a lot of snake oil in the market being peddled as surge protection, or off-line power backup. Buy from reputable sources and test this stuff frequently yourself as the protection it affords tends to diminish as it actually does its job to protect against the vicissitudes of current anomalies.

For really critical stuff, you need to look at self-generation technology. Diesel generators are by far the most popular, but there is growing interest in hydrogen power cells and other alternatives, including solar, to recharge emergency batteries and to provide power in the event of a lost service. The good news is that the Federal government and some state governments even provide kickbacks on some self-generation technologies.


About the Author: Besides being a prolific author, columnist and speaker on storage-related issues such as disaster recovery planning and storage management, Jon William Toigo is also the president of independent storage consulting firm, Toigo Partners International, and chairman of the Data Management Institute. Toigo writes monthly for SearchStorage.com. His columns appear in the site's "Toigo's Take on Storage" expert category and backup/recovery areas. His books include, Disaster recovery planning: Preparing for the unthinkable, 3/e. For more detailed information on the nine parts of a full-fledged DR plan, see one of Jon's Web sites at www.drplanning.org/phases.html.

This was first published in August 2003
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