Stephanie Balaouras

TechCrunchIT reported today that a Rackspace data center went down for several hours during the evening due to a power grid failure. Because Rackspace is a managed service provider (MSP), the downtime affected several businesses hosted in the data center.

When companies think of disaster recovery and downtime, they typically think of catastrophic events such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. What companies don’t realize is that the most common cause of downtime is power failures. In a joint study by Forrester Research and The Disaster Recovery Journal of 250 disaster recovery decision-makers and influencers, 42% of respondents indicated that a power failure was the cause of their most significant disaster declaration or major business disruption.

To prevent power failures, businesses must ensure that they have multiple diverse connections to the power grid as well as install backup power generators and uninterruptible power supplies (UPS) at the data center. But it’s not enough to have these preventative measures in place, businesses must test the ability to switch over to backup power must at least twice year. And if your business has a recovery data center, it’s best if the recovery data center is on a different power grid and is also equipped with backup power generation.

But despite all these measures, failures might still happen, in the case of the Rackspace power failure, the company successfully failed over to its backup power generators but some of its chillers did not start up correctly.

In North America, the risk of power failures is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future. According to a 2007 report by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), long-term capacity margins are still inadequate and significant investment in transmission is still required.

So businesses must not only invest in preventative measures such as backup power generators, they must think about where they locate their data centers. You must avoid areas that have clearly identified congestion issues and focus on areas that have access to cheap and abundant power. And, don’t take it for granted that your service provider has effectively managed the risk of power failures.