Andy Greenberg, 07.24.07
Forbes.com

When a single data center sneezes, the Internet gets a cold.
That’s what several major Web sites learned Tuesday afternoon when a power outage in downtown San Francisco disabled 365 Main, a Web server company that hosts sites including Craigslist, Technorati, SixApart, Yelp, GameSpot, the homepage of Sun Microsystems and Red Envelope. The outage, which began at about 1:45 p.m. Pacific time, disabled the sites for more than an hour.
In a statement issued at 4 p.m. Pacific time, 365 Main said that it was 100% operational again and running on back-up generators until it could confirm that utility power was stable.

An initial report from the blog Valleywag blamed the event on a drunken employee, however 365 spokesperson Cynthia Harris said the rumor was unfounded.

In a sense, falling victim to an ordinary power blackout is more embarrassing — most server companies have backup power systems designed to handle just such a mishap.

The outage was particularly troubling for SixApart, whose online Web applications depend on continuous uptime to compete with offline tools like Microsoft Word. SixApart said its homepage was down till 3:45 p.m. Pacific time.

“We spend a lot of money making sure that we have reliable service and that we have redundant server systems in place,” says SixApart spokesperson Jane Anderson. “So it’s very unfortunate that it was a power outage that brought the site down.”

A spokesman for blog search engine Technorati, whose home page was down until 3:05 p.m., was equally displeased. “These are peak hours, U.S. daytime hours while people are still in front of their computers looking at publications and media outlets,” says Aaron Krane. “The whole point of a co-location site is keeping servers safe from power fluctuations.”

Seth Grodin, who uses SixApart’s Typepad blogging application to produce a widely read marketing blog, says he was “annoyed and upset” by the downtime.

“I depend on them, and this is horrible,” says Grodin, whose blog is the 12th most popular on the Web according to Technorati’s rankings. “On the other hand, I’m sure they’ll fix this. If the blogging world has to take a day off, that’s not the end of the world.”

Ironically, 365 Main had issued a press release earlier in the day touting the site’s two years of continuous uptime.

That kind of continuous service is only to be expected, says Margie Backaus, Chief Business Officer at 365 Main competitor Equinix.

“It’s literally happened maybe two or maybe three times in the eight years I’ve been here,” Backaus says.

Equinix invests in redundant batteries and diesel generators to keep its data centers online. As much as 70% of the $100 million or so that goes into building a data center is spent on power systems, Backaus says.

“As a data center provider right now, I feel their pain because I know they’re just running around to try to figure out what happened,” she added.

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