Why it's not a good idea to put your servers in a flood zone

Why it's not a good idea to put your servers in a flood zone

Summary: The Huffington Post, Gawker and Buzzfeed -- three major news websites -- are down because their Internet service provider, Datagram, experienced flooding during Hurricane Sandy.

TOPICS: Data Centers

Would you locate your datacenter in a coastal flood zone?

I'm sure there are many fine folks working at Datagram, the New York City-based Internet service provider, and they are no doubt tirelessly scrambling this morning after Hurricane Sandy led to severe flooding and power outages in downtown Manhattan last night. (Fingers crossed that they get things up and running in short order.)

So are the many editors and writers at The Huffington Post, Gawker and Buzzfeed, three large news websites that are down this morning (and have been all night) because significant flooding at Datagram HQ took servers offline. For now, these publications are publishing content in other locations -- HuffPo at corporate parent AOL's site; Buzzfeed on Tumblr; Gawker's various properties on liveblogs hosted on subdomains for their sites.

(You can read the play by play for each site over at Wired, if you're so inclined.)

Forgive me, but I'm scratching my head here: why would you host your major, major website solely in low-lying downtown Manhattan? Have we learned nothing of disaster recovery and resiliency?

The image above shows New York's three hurricane evacuation zones. Datagram is in Zone A, described by the city as follows: "Residents in Zone A face the highest risk of flooding from a hurricane's storm surge. Zone A includes all low-lying coastal areas and other areas that could experience storm surge in ANY hurricane that makes landfall close to New York City."

I know New York is a major center for many things, including technology, and I don't mean to kick a guy when he's down, so to speak. I'm sure the details will surface soon enough -- perhaps so many services went down in New York that there was no alternate path to be had.

But I suspect this wasn't the best strategic decision. No?

Related on ZDNet:

Topic: Data Centers

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • One word, perhaps two

    Convenience. Or call it being lazy. Who wouldn't want to be within walking distance of your DC? This is the norm in so many cities. It's short cited.
  • You're so smart

    Why don't you go work for them and tell them where they should put their servers.

    And if anything ever happens, some OTHER smartass will write an article on why it's a bad idea to put the servers where YOU put them.

    And if nothing ever happens, it's your fault that you didn't put the servers at a more convenient location. The IT folks had to spend extra hours every year travelling to and from the data center.
    • There are plenty of places in New York City

      ...on higher ground. I'm not saying the servers need to be in Albuquerque.
      • To include skyscrapers

        But perhaps the Bronx and Staten Island are better places to build a data center than is Manhattan.
        John L. Ries
        • Moon is Safer!

          Cmon, obviously the moon is the safest place!..these people are idiots =/ Hurricanes dont hit NY directly very often, its not reasonable to think that people should spend endless amounts of money to protect against the small likelihood of a storm like Sandy. Im sure they will learn an expensive lesson here, but guess what...DCs will continue to be placed in manhattan...despite your brilliant advice against it.
      • RE: Hurricanes Floods in Manhattan rare but

        Don't think terrorism will be a 1 in 100 years occurrence despite the current 11 year drought
  • Long Island

    Actually, for the NYC area, it would make more sense to locate them in Nassau or even Suffolk County (Suffolk is the entire eastern half of L.I.), just not on coastal communities like Patchogue (my home town).

    There is a huge pool of extremely skilled technical personnel, physical facilities are much less expensive, housing and living costs are lower, the transportation and other ties between NYC and LI are extensive, and--best of all--the "IT serfs" are within easy punishment and execution distance.
  • Or why not use a data center that offers multiple locations

    The best thing would of course be to use a provider that offers to have fall back systems located in several locations. In emergencies European and Asian servers can serve the US. Often when its peak trafic in the US, it is low trafic in Europe and Asia.
    • redundancy is the name of the game

      Having DR sites elsewhere on different power grids is what corporates do.....too bad HuffPo and the others didn't realize this. They will next time.
  • Well

    The types that operate Huffington post aren't known for their intelligence.
  • Why it's not a good idea to put your servers in a flood zone

    Could be worse, they could have built them in Newark.
    Loverock Davidson-
  • Puerility at it's finest

    So we're not even done checking damages (or even death tolls) from the hurricane and you think it makes sense to type about how dumb people are for hosting their servers in lower Manhattan?

    Here's the thing, that's not a normal flood zone. It's not like every summer the Hudson swells up and floods wall street. The flood zone was mapped out because of the enormity of Sandy. You know how bad this thing was? MTA shut down all the subways. The governor called for evacuations. AND WALL ST. STOPPED TRADING for two days! The first time in 30 years that it has closed for weather. I don't think anyone would be fired for assuming a location good enough for the financial center of America is good enough for your server.
    • Duh....you't think

      Once every thirty years is enough of an indication that something will happen. How about New Orleans....now there is the next place to host your servers. Mother nature's been there, done that one. Right?????
      • I stand corrected

        The last time Wall St. for more than 24 hours was in 1885. For a blizzard. They closed for a few hours last year for Irene but there was no flooding. Sandy is the largest hurricane on record. There should have been multi location redundancy in place but saying "oh they should have foreseen an event that's never occurred before in recorded history" is childish and petty. The reason those areas were marked as flood zones was because of the 12 foot swells caused by Sandy. It's not like Manhattan is below sea level.
        • No, but it's close.

          I know how bad the situation is -- CBSi offices in the city have been closed all week. We've all been working from home.

          That still doesn't make this the best strategic decision.
        • Don't live in 20th century!!

          People move out of the 20th century logic, the world is becoming more reliant on DRs and servers, it has to be 24/7/365 no matter its Sandy or Gandhi
  • Captain hindsight

    Captain hindsight to the rescue!
    James Murphy82
  • OMG: Floods and earthquakes and fires, oh my

    There is no excuse for lack of disaster planning. If you want to locate your main servers near places where the potential exists for fire, earthquake or flooding, you had better invest in redundant systems high on a rock in Colorado.
    • NWS

      And that is where Norad, the NWS (National Weather Service), and many portions of the NGS (National Geographic Survey) are headquartered. Jimminy Crickets, I wonder why? Much lower co$t$ than even Long Island. No hurricanes. Almost no tornados due to the mountain range running east west in southern Colorado / northern New Mexico plus the normal north south rockies. Low earthquake activity. Great skiing and mountain biking and other outdoor activities. Denver is a major Internet hub. No floods. Highly over trained and over educated work force with Utah next door being even higher and workers willing to move but not too far away. There was a time when geographic location was more important. With the Internet location isn't nearly as important any more. So why is somebody locating a data center in a flood plain? Water and electronics just don't mix very well.
  • How's that Cloud working out for you?

    Nice to have offsite data but with the disruption of internet service along with electrical grid access, how's that Cloud service working for you now?