New York tech firms form 'bucket brigade' to fuel flagging servers
Shifting fuel 17 floors up by hand
Three technology firms have joined forces to avoid any data center downtime in the aftereffects of Hurricane Sandy amid the continuing power outages crippling Lower Manhattan.
Employees of Peer 1 Hosting, blog host Squarespace, and Fog Creek Software have formed a 'bucket brigade', lugging diesel up to the backup generators located on the 17th floor of the 75 Broad Street offices in which they are based. So far they have proved successful – Peer 1's servers are still rolling, the only one in the building still to do so.
"Bucket brigade going strong. We’ve gone through half of our morning fuel delivery and are expecting a truck with 5,000 gallons coming at noon. Potential issues are lack of bucket brigade manpower into the night, and our fuel pumps burning out," said the Squarespace blog. "Spirits are strong and everyone from Peer 1, Fog Creek, and Squarespace is working together."
The generators for the servers are high up in the building, safe from damage, but the company's problems stem from the fact that the fuel reserves and the equipment to pump the diesel upstairs are located in the basement and were disabled by flood waters. The firm is dependent on fuel trucks unloading what the generators need in 55 gallon drums and then lugging it upstairs on muscle power alone.
Workin on a chain gang...
With the storm largely past, work is now beginning to pump out water from the basement of the building, but it seems that the damage is more extensive than first expected and a water main may have ruptured. Certainly attempts to pump out the basement water and get the fuel pumps working are failing so far.
Peer 1 appears to be the only hosting company still capable of offering a service below 34th Street, but that situation can't last much longer. The site is totally dependent on regular deliveries of fuel and having enough manpower to get it upstairs, and both can't be sustained indefinitely.
"This situation is untenable. We can’t keep manpower going 24/7 for days," Squarespace warns. "The building’s first attempt at an alternative method for pumping fuel to the 18th floor has failed, as the fuel pump wasn’t powerful enough. They believe they have sourced an alternate pump, but given the situation in New York City right now, we’re in a wait-and-see posture. Fuel- and water-pumps are in short supply." ®
It's not too uncommon for high-rise buildings to have service floors periodically. That allows water pumps and tanks to be installed. Otherwise, an incredible pressure would be needed to pump water to the top of some of those buildings, pressures high enough that it would burst common pipes. And, for that matter, turning on a faucet at a lower level would produce a stream of water so intense that it could cut things (seriously hard things, like granite and steel). Thus, to avoid problems like this, it's common to put holding tanks and helper pumps on service floors of high-rise buildings.
Additionally, the water storage tanks aid in fire fighting by providing a reservoir of water for sprinklers and fire hoses. This source of water even works without electrical power, which may be compromised in the event of a disaster.
Furthermore, the water in the storage tanks can be used as a dynamic mass damper to reduce the tendency for the building to resonate when excited by earthquakes, or even by the wind.
The service floors also make a convenient place to put elevator motors for the banked elevators which service the floors below the service floor.
The service floors may also be convenient places to put electric distribution/switching panels, and/or transformers. So, it would be somewhat logical to put backup generators in the same space.
This concludes this architecture lesson; we now return you to the normal commenting.
P.S. Mine's the one with a copy of "The Tower and the Bridge" by Donald P. Billington in the pocket. I attended a lecture by Professor Billington once; it was quite interesting.
Still, I take my hat off to those guys who are trying to provide a service to their customers despite the odds. They all deserve a BIG cold frosty
Don't say "your company runs on people"
The way business execs and the economy are these days, you'll probably find some brightly lit datacenter with curiously few employees around, and the generators are being run on a biodiesel fuel that the CEO calls "oilent green"