Outage Leaves Exodus in the Dark

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Outage Leaves Exodus in the Dark

By Scott Harris May 08 2001 04:34 PM PDT

The Web hosting company is at a loss over why one of its data center's backup systems didn't kick in after a blackout. An unexpected outage knocked out power to a California data center operated by Exodus Communications, exposing serious trouble in its vaunted backup systems.

The outage, which triggered a three-hour disruption of services to Yahoo customers, was blamed on an undetermined equipment failure at utility Pacific Gas & Electric after earlier reports blamed rolling blackouts and an underground explosion. The outage was not related to California's current energy crisis, which has caused power officials to institute rolling blackouts to prevent overtaxing the state's power grid.

The Exodus data center in Sunnyvale, Calif., is equipped with a backup of batteries and generators that's supposed to kick in when the power is cut and prevent any interruption of service. "The operation failed to roll over to backup generation, and Exodus engineers are trying to determine why," said a public relations representative for Exodus.

The backup systems known as UPS, or uninterruptible power supply are common in the industry, which provides the Internet's electricity-guzzling infrastructure of servers and air conditioners with a fail-safe. Those systems will become more crucial to Internet operations as the summer bears down on energy-starved California and rising demand drains reserves amid rotating blackouts to prevent a system-wide overload.

The affected Exodus data center was acquired last year when the company purchased GlobalCenter, the Web-hosting unit of Global Crossing. Yahoo was a major client of GlobalCenter's Web-hosting services.

As record heat hit parts of the San Francisco Bay Area, power grid officials ordered rolling blackouts that affected 54,000 PG&E customers on Monday. Yahoo officials initially attributed the disruption, which struck at 2:50 p.m. PDT Monday, to the rolling blackouts.

On Tuesday, a public relations firm that represents Exodus released a statement from the company blaming "an underground vault explosion" at PG&E.

"There was no explosion," said Jennifer Ramp, a PG&E spokeswoman. "We had a connector that failed. It could be for a variety of reasons. We're just trying to figure out what happened."

PG&E rerouted electrical service to Exodus in about an hour, ahead of most other affected customers, Ramp said. It took Yahoo about three hours to restore its affected services. Because Yahoo's operations are dispersed in data centers throughout the world, company spokeswoman Shannon Stubo said a portion of the portal's 192 million customers had some of their services disrupted.

More than 220,000 Californians were hit by outages Monday, and officials were poised to order another rolling outage Tuesday. Cooler weather is expected to arrive Wednesday, easing demand and the likelihood of more outages.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 08, 2001

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