Water is fatal to computers!

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I was touring the Atlanta Peak10 Data Center recently and one of the techs mentioned that it is such a mistake for a company to put their corporate computers in the same space where the people are. He pointed to the fire suppression and said simply “Water is fatal to computers!” He then told a story of how a certain company had their computers in a space that had been built out for humans. So there was a “wet pipe” system for fire suppression. As luck would have it, the cleaning lady bumped one of the nozzles with the broom handle and all the computers and storage for the company were killed that night. Of course they had the data backed up – kinda. But not as complete as they thought. A sad story at best.

All this reminds me of two other ladies who were not very ladylike: Miss Katrina and Miss Sandy. When Katrina came ashore, I was SVP Operations at SDN Global. We were installing satellite based communications systems all over the world to bring advanced data, voice and video to the under-served world. We had systems in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, North and South America, and in several oceans. We were contacted by FEMA and found ourselves installing emergency communications in Mississippi and Louisiana. Eventually, after things returned to “normal”, a large hospital group contacted us. They had their generators in the basements of their many hospitals and the ones in New Orleans had flooded and become inoperative. (Generators don’t like water either!) and the entire hospital became non-functional.  We built for them a safe room in each hospital where communications, computers and voip phones were available. These rooms were powered and communicated independently of the rest of the hospital.

The lesson here is that redundancy is not redundancy when one event takes both out at the same time.


About the Author:

While I was at Stanford, I got to know Dr. William Schockley, the inventor of the transistor. While at Bell Labs I produced the first computer generated animation, I worked on the first packet switch and the first picture-phone. I worked with the inventors of Unix and C. I produced multiple compilers, operating systems and microcode. I worked with the Snobal language - the precursor to Perl and Ramis the precursor to SQL. The building I worked in was home for 5000 of the smartest people in the industry. We had Phd's cutting the grass. (just kidding). I never had it so good again. Today that building is empty and for sale. After the Bell System, I spent 25 years in the satellite industry. I led development teams in the VSAT industry. I started and grew early stage companies in this industry. Recently I have been involved in cloud computing startups focused on infrastructure and virtual desktops.
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