Decisions can have long-term ramifications that are not always easy to change. I do a lot of backcountry backpacking in the Sierra’s and a hike is often selected as much as a year in advance. Once a particular hike or route is selected, all other activities revolve around that hike. By the time you get to the trailhead, your route is committed. If you find once you get on the trail that crossing multiple 11,000 passes in a short period of time may be more than you bargained for, there might not be other easy options to consider.
Selecting a Data Center provider is similar. Once you sign that contract, changing is not easy and it can also be expensive. Which is why companies really need to consider placing IT infrastructure in data centers outside of California. Don’t get me wrong, I live in San Diego, and love the city and all it has to offer, but unless there was a really good business reason for doing so, I would not place a substantial amount of IT Infrastructure here. Why?
It really comes down to a few issues:
- Cost of Power in California, especially southern, CA.
- Risks associated with natural disasters – Earthquakes & Fires
- Stability of the Power Grid to supply Primary Power
The cost of power in California in general is some of the most expensive in the country. In Southern California, from LA to San Diego it is approaching .16kWh. In Phoenix, AZ, it is in the .07-.09kWh range or nearly half. If you have a modest amount of equipment, say 20 racks @ 5kW per rack. That 100,000 kW load is going to cost you ~$16K per month in California, vs ~$8K in AZ. and that is based on the just the pure cost of power to the data center provider. Each data center provider is then going to have a level of overhead associated with their cost, so that the actual cost to you is going to be much higher.
The fantastic climate that we live in comes with a price. We have our share of natural disasters in California. The big three are earthquakes, fires, and mud slides. From a data center perspective, it’s really the first two that matter. For the most part, data centers are not located at the bottom of a hill that is in danger of sliding.
We do however have earthquakes throughout CA. The good news is that the majority of data centers are not built directly on an active fault. In addition, many of the facilities are built to withstand at least a magnitude 7 earthquake or in some cases greater. The bad news is that if an area is hit hard, transportation, electrical, and normal services could be impacted for an extended period of time. At that point, the data center may be “up” but it could be an island from the rest of the world without connectivity and power. And although most data centers have 24 – 72 hours of backup fuel capacity to power their generators. If the fuel trucks are unable to reach them in time, at some point the fuel is going to run out.
Fire is less of an issue, but still an issue, especially in areas such as greater San Diego. The region has been fortunate and has never lost a data center that I am aware of due to fire, but in 2008, when it seemed all of San Diego was burning, a number of fires were within visual distance of major data centers. In addition, similar to earthquakes, it is also the knock-on effect that is a concern.
This week a new issue emerged. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported on Wednesday the 6th that the region from LA to San Diego could be impacted by 8-18 days of power blackouts this summer due to natural gas shortages at the Aliso Canyon storage facility. Although all of the data center providers in the region have redundant infrastructure – Generators & UPS systems to keep the power running when the utility cannot, sudden outages stress the infrastructure and induce risk. The more outages the more risk. In addition, the systems are emergency standby systems. Meaning although they can run for an extended period of time, the normal mode is to run for minutes until power is restored. Systems running for hours at a time tax the infrastructure and the teams operating that infrastructure and the risk of an outage goes up.
Over the years, I’ve had direct responsibility for running many data centers in California. I know first hand that many of the centers are world class and the operators are professionals. However, when a short distance away, you can save significant dollars and be in a location that does not have the geographic risk that California does, why would you place your infrastructure here? A few racks maybe, but if you have 20, 40, 60 or more. There are better options out there to consider!