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Surviving Rita: A tale of a hurrican-hit data center

Surviving Rita: A tale of a hurrican-hit data center

For the second hurricane in a row, New Orleans-based Web hosting vendor and Internet domain name registrar DirectNIC managed to stay up and running overnight as Hurricane Rita pounded the Gulf Coast before coming ashore.

For the second hurricane in a row, New Orleans-based Web hosting vendor and Internet domain name registrar DirectNIC managed to stay up and running overnight as Hurricane Rita pounded the Gulf Coast before coming ashore. Sigmund Solares, CEO of Intercosmos Media Group Inc., which owns DirectNIC, said his company, located on the 10th floor of a downtown New Orleans office building, was still dealing with broken windows and other damage left from Katrina, which plowed through the area Aug. 29. During that storm -- and despite massive flooding in much of New Orleans after -- DirectNIC's operations continued uninterrupted because it had an emergency generator and an adequate fuel supply, he said.

DirectNIC has approximately 800 hosted servers.

"We definitely got hurt by Katrina, and we still have a ways to go [to get completely cleaned up], but we remained open the whole time," Solares said.

Even as Rita's strong winds brushed by, ripping tin pieces from neighboring structures and hurling them at DirectNIC's building, Solares said he and his four team members were much less worried than when Katrina struck. "It's still windy outside," he said next morning. "It's still gusty. [But] right now, we are feeling much better than at any time during Katrina."

Solares said he got a good night's sleep inside an internal office in the building, where he was able to get away from the howling winds outside. The building continued to have electricity until 7:59 a.m. -- more than four hours after the storm struck near the Louisiana-Texas border. The power went out then, and battery backups kicked on instantaneously, followed by a backup emergency generator, he said. The outage lasted only 11 minutes, however, and the company's servers remained up and running.

In other parts of the city, particularly the Ninth Ward, floodwaters cascaded over newly repaired levee walls, causing more problems in low-lying areas.

During Katrina, DirectNIC's employees had to build a makeshift levee of their own. Rainwater began entering through the ceiling from broken windows on the floor above, Solares said, forcing him and his staff to use mops, a wet/dry vacuum machine and bundles of promotional T-shirts to create what he called the company's own "levee system" to keep water away from servers and other electronic gear. Those same methods came in handy again during Rita, he said, since building repairs have not yet been made. Before Rita drew near, Solares and his crew installed plywood over the open windows and used sealant and tarps, hoping to keep out as much rain as possible. The makeshift repairs helped, he said.

Earlier, as Rita swirled in the Gulf of Mexico as a dangerous Category 5 storm, Solares called a competing Web hosting vendor in Houston, EV1Servers.net, and offered help in case Rita hit Houston dead-on.

"For us, there's a lot we can do," Solares said. "It's not much effort for us to help people get back up and running." DirectNIC has extra space and capacity for servers and can make that space available to others in an emergency, he said.

"We're lucky that we've always saved for a rainy day and that we're able to help our employees and try to help other people, even though it's a very tough time for us overall," Solares said. "It's also good for morale for our employees to see us helping other people in need."

In Houston, Robert Marsh, CEO of EV1Servers.net, said that because Hurricane Rita tracked farther toward the east, away from Houston, the city was spared the storm's worst effects. The highest wind gusts were in the 50-to-60-mph range, far lower than the 120-mph winds expected at one point.

About 25 EV1 employees stayed overnight inside the company's offices and two data centers to maintain services for customers. The company had also sent seven Web technicians to a hotel in Wichita, Kan., to remotely handle customer trouble tickets had its main data centers been knocked out by the storm. -- Computerworld (US online)

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