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Sandy wounded servers, some grievously, say services firms

Many east coast IT infrastructure rescue efforts are underway in the wake Hurricane Sandy

November 7, 2012 11:58 AM ET

Computerworld - Companies that specialize in data recovery are still getting many calls for help from businesses and institutions whose equipment was damaged by the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

There are multiple efforts underway by services firms to recover data from servers that were underwater during storm surges or were damaged by power surges in the New York metro area.

Many businesses had underestimated the power of the storm that hit the east coast last week while many that did weren't able to get key computer equipment out of harm's way in time, according to companies that specialize in data recovery.

Data centers were a significant casualty of the massive storm.

Data center equipment exists in a controlled environment of steady temperatures and relative humidity. But storm-caused flooding took some data centers offline, and in some cases caused generators to fail. One data center even reported temperatures rising above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, as its staff scrambled to make generator repairs.

In breaking the environmental cocoons protecting IT equipment in many east coast data centers, the storm may have wounded some servers and set them up for component failures weeks or months from now.

"Everybody just underestimated the strength of the hurricane," said Todd Johnson, vice president of operations of Kroll Ontrack, which provides data recovery services.

Johnson compared Sandy to Katrina, the 2005 hurricane that devastated the U.S. gulf coast and caused significant damage to data centers in many businesses. "People underestimated the power," he said.

Kroll Ontrack, as well as data recovery firm Drive Savers, are reporting a sharp increase in calls from people seeking help with flood damaged equipment.

Johnson said the storm damaged equipment ranges from desktop computers to servers, including stand-alone RAID systems running office environments at mid-to-large sized businesses located in coastal areas.

Johnson said his firm has customers who reported servers in water that was 10 to 13 feet deep. Data can be recovered off flood damaged systems, but Johnson recommends that users act swiftly to minimize damage.

Similarly, Michelle Taylor, a spokeswoman for Drive Savers, said the company is helping many storm-affected customers, including a large home furnishing retailer in New Jersey with a RAID system that includes nine drives storing two terabytes of data each, recover data.

Taylor said the company expects more work as companies continue to dig out from Sandy.

Less certain is whether the environmental problems in data centers will lead to problems down the road for servers.

The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends that data centers operate between 64.4 degrees and 80.6 degrees fahrenheit.

ASHRAE has studied manufacturing data to determine what happens to servers that work in high temperatures, according to Don Beaty, a consulting engineer and publications chair of the society's Technical Committee 9.9 for mission-critical facilities, technology spaces and electronic equipment.

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