Can Your Data Center Racks Withstand a Seismic Event?

Can Your Data Center Racks Withstand a Seismic Event?

On Oct. 18, more than 55 million people worldwide will participate in the Great ShakeOut, a drill designed to help individuals, businesses, schools and other organizations better prepare for a major earthquake. The centerpiece of the drill is an exercise called Drop, Cover and Hold On — drop to the ground, take cover under a table or desk, and hold onto it. Participants should stay down for at least 60 seconds and consider what might happen in an actual earthquake, what to do after the shaking stops, and how to communicate with others.

Launched in Southern California in 2008, the Great ShakeOut has expanded to more than 20 official regions globally. People in other areas can also participate. The premise is that these drills help people respond more quickly when an earthquake occurs, increasing their chance of survival.

Earthquake preparedness obviously focuses on human safety. However, organizations should also ensure that their IT environments can withstand a seismic event. Even if your data center isn’t in an earthquake-prone area, data centers can experience vibration from various sources that can cause damage if equipment isn’t properly stabilized.

Seismic rack-mount enclosures or cabinets are built to withstand heavy vibrations and seismic events. These specially designed enclosures not only play a key role in determining whether equipment will survive, but can also help to keep your organization online without disruption.

While most racks have a static-load rating, seismic racks are designed to handle a dynamic weight load and account for side-to-side, front-to-back and up-and-down movement. The design of the rack, and the materials used to manufacture it, are critical.

The Network Equipment-Building System (NEBS) standard was developed by Bell Labs in the 1970s to establish design standards for equipment installed in the telco central office. The NEBS GR-63-CORE provides specifications and testing methods for meeting NEBS requirements, including earthquake and vibration criteria.

Equipment racks for use in earthquake-prone areas should meet NEBS Level 3 standards, which includes all of the requirements of GR-63-CORE. The racks must be tested on a “shaker” table that simulates an earthquake in Universal Building Code (UBC) Seismic Zone 4 — a geographic area having the highest potential for seismic activity. The rack must be fully loaded with equipment, and the shaker table should generate movements on the X, Y and Z axes, with varying intensity up to 8.3 on the Richter scale. Organizations in Seismic Zone 1, 2 or 3 can opt for enclosures rated for their area.

Some seismic racks are rated based upon the International Building Code (IBC), which does not require third-party testing. Also, IBC standards measure how a rack works with the entire building as opposed to the stability of the rack itself. As a result, IBC-rated racks are generally cheaper than NEBS-compliant racks.

Whatever rack you choose, it must be properly bolted to the floor of the data center to minimize the risk of thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment falling to the ground. The enclosure should also have all the features you would want and expect from a traditional rack.

The Rahi Systems team includes data center infrastructure specialists who can help you select and implement the right seismic racks for your data center. Give us a call to discuss how you can better prepare your data center for the next seismic event.

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