08-13-13 | Blog Post

Michigan Data Centers Were Up & Running: Online Tech’s Co-CEO Reflects on 2003 Power Outage

Blog Posts

August 14th marks the 10th anniversary of America’s largest power outage leaving customers from Michigan to New England without power for days.

When Yan Ness, Online Tech Co-CEO, and his partners purchased Online Tech in July 2003, they didn’t realize in less than 2 months the Michigan data center would experience a test of a lifetime.    

Shortly after 4 pm EST on August 14th, 2003, the power grid that distributed electricity to the eastern United States became overloaded. Circuit breakers began tripping at generating stations in New York to Michigan and into Canada causing the largest power outage in American history.1

Ness vividly remembers that day as he was in a board meeting when alarms in the Michigan data center began going off.  Everyone ran out of the boardroom and into the data center to see what was wrong.  The office was on a generator so it had power and nothing was down in the data center, yet alarms were going off.

“It took a while for us to realize what was truly going on.  Until someone looked at CNN.com did we comprehended how bad the power outage actually was,” said Ness.

The 2003 power outage affected approximately 10 million people in Ontario and 45 million people in the U.S. including eight states: New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio and Michigan.1  The power outage left people with no phone service, no light and no air conditioning for up to 2 days.  More than 100 power plants shut down and hospitals and prisons were forced to use backup generators. 2

Michigan Data Centers

Michigan Data Centers Were Always Up & Running
Online Tech’s Michigan data centers never lost power and phones were up and running.  Within two hours of the outage, Ness remembers having two prospects call in and Online Tech engineers deploying their servers that night.

“There were a number of sites that couldn’t do business.  We even had trouble contacting some of our own vendors during that time,” said Ness. “I learned right then and there the importance for businesses to move to a more reliable space.   You might think it doesn’t matter if your data center is down 10 to 15 minutes, but the blackout made me realize it does matter. The power outage showed that it was possible to be down for days. I soon realized that there was a strong need for the infrastructure that we had just invested in.”

Today, Online Tech’s Michigan data centers are more reliable than ten years ago. In 2003, the data center only had one generator, 1 UPS and 1 air conditioner.  Now Online Tech’s data centers are fully redundant or N+1. In order to provide high availability hosting, Online Tech uses multiple ISP’s and each data center boasts 100 percent fully redundant Cisco networks with automatic failover. The Michigan data centers are also located 53 miles apart on separate power grids with different utility providers and interconnected through Gigabit fiber.

Online Tech also has designed each of their Michigan data centers to support customers who may lose power or connectivity.  Data centers have conference rooms, wifi and other accommodations available to clients in case of an emergency.

(1) www.nytimes.com
(2) www.mlive.com

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