Data centers, used to house computer systems and associated components such as telecommunications and data storage systems, store everything from classified government information to personal photos posted on social media websites. Designers must consider a number of key factors when constructing a data center facility, including site selection, mechanical and electrical infrastructure, modularity and flexibility and environmental control.
Now, experts at the Data Center World conference held last week in Las Vegas, Nev. say that designing to prevent damage from electromagnetic pulses and intentional electromagnetic interference must also become a key part of the planning process.
“In current data centre designs, electromagnetic concerns are something that really have not been addressed very much,” Michael Caruso, director of government and specialty business development for ETS-Lindgren said during a panel discussion on electromagnetic interference issues.
“The common [thought] is ‘it can’t happen’,” Caruso added. “It can happen, it will happen and it has happened.”
George Baker, CEO of BAYCOR, noted that the spread of cloud computing has led to more data being placed “in fewer baskets,” and that reliance on failover sites has reduced physical security. According to Data Center Knowledge, backup data centers are usually only 60 miles or less away from the primary facility, a distance that would not necessarily protect the secondary site against EMPs. While IT equipment is generally designed to withstand a pulse of 10 V/m, an EMP would result in a high-intensity pulse of over 10,000 V/m.
“There’s a general lack of awareness of how serious this can be,” Baker said. “The entire upper atmosphere effectively becomes a giant phased array antenna.”
“Both narrowband and wideband energy is created with these EMP events,” Caruso said. “Modern electronics and modern data centers are not addressing EMP issues at this point. Even an EMP attack from a handheld device isn’t survivable.”
While there options designed for data centers, including protective enclosures, for servers, power and signal line filters and shielding for entrance doors, the cost of such measures is not inexpensive. Caruso estimates that it would increase building costs for a new facility by approximately 5 to 8 percent, while retrofitting an existing site could be even more expensive.