Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Christmas Flooding a Reminder of Technology's Limits

The Christmas holiday season is usually one of general good cheer. For those living in the northernmost portions of England however, the 2015 holiday season brought with it severe rain and floods. The flooding was so bad in Leeds that the water knocked out data and voice services for customers of Vodafone. BT customers in York were also affected by flood waters in the north of England.

Yorkshire, Cumbria and local communities all over the North East and North West spent Christmas weekend trying to recover from heavy rains. In Leeds, the River Aire overflowed its banks to flood a good portion of the city, including a primary Vodafone data centre. The data centre lost power in addition to suffering water damage to both the premises and on-site hardware.

Vodafone officials said that their Kirkstall Road data centre was inundated with flood waters, causing intermittent service issues for customers in the North East. The company was not given access to the data centre until Boxing Day, slowing down repair efforts. Vodafone has since restored power with backup generators and is now in the process of repairing and replacing hardware.

Building and Infrastructure Limits

If nothing else, the Christmas floods in the north of England are a reminder that buildings and data communications infrastructure have their limits. We design data centre buildings and on-site hardware to be as robust as possible in the event of natural disasters and other emergencies, but there is nothing we can do to address every possible contingency. Flooding is but one example.

When rivers overwhelm their banks to inundate towns and villages, there's not much that can be done to stop the water. It goes where it wants, despite our best efforts to the contrary. We can design and build to minimise damage, but we can never stop Mother Nature from doing what she wants to do.

The good news is that the flooding was not nearly as bad as it could have been. Vodafone and other affected businesses, along with local homeowners, will recover in a relatively quick manner. Vodafone customers, despite having experienced intermittent service issues during the flooding event, have now been restored to full service thanks to the efforts of Vodafone staff. And so life goes on.
A Lesson in Redundancy
How did Vodafone recover so quickly after losing access to an entire data centre for an extended amount of time? Through built-in redundancy. That is the key to maintaining service in the modern era of technology. Redundancy is what has kept aeroplanes flying, hospitals operating, and military systems up and running in the face of all kinds of disasters. It is what keeps data communications going all over the world.

In the aftermath of the Christmas flooding in the north, Vodafone and other telecommunications companies will be taking another look at redundancy. Improvements will be made and new designs will be adopted. Then they will sit back and wait for the next emergency…  which will hopefully not be upon us too soon!



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