Of all the numerous lessons from Hurricane Sandy, there’s one that should have been obvious all along. That is: No matter how much progress we make, disasters can show us how much we still depend on primitive systems and human ingenuity. Scary thought, isn’t it? This was especially demonstrated in the case of Peer 1 Hosting, a web hosting company in New York City. More than 24 hours after the Sandy’s departure, they’re keeping their servers going with a bucket brigade that’s hand carrying fuel up 17 flights of stairs to their backup generators. Even some customers showed up to keep this gallant effort going.
By now we should all know that cloud storage doesn’t really happen in the clouds – otherwise hurricanes would give us that much more free storage. Instead our data resides in servers that sit in data centers across the globe. As the Huffington Post, Gawker and others discovered, it takes a high level of dedication and some luck to keep those servers up and running. Some data centers are strategically placed in areas that have a low risk for natural disasters – statistically at least. Others have elaborate backup plans, but none are completely immune.
With Hurricane Sandy on the way, the staff at Peer 1 arranged for food, water and emergency fuel to power its generators in case of a power outage. This was good planning. Or so they thought. As it turns out the fuel is stored in the basement and the generator is 17 floors above that. There is no system for pumping the fuel up those stairs. After advising their customers to backup all data, the Peer 1 staff went to work, hand carrying buckets of fuel up the stairs. Considering that the generator burns up 40 gallons of fuel per hour, that’s a lot of hard, physical work. And once again, hats off to human ingenuity and real customer service.