Winter Storm Uri hit Texas with icy fury on Feb. 13, 2021, leaving more than 5 million without power, more than 24 million with water loss or disruption, and estimated damages of between $195 billion and $295 billion. The storm impacted the state on an enormous scale and for a duration the Texas infrastructure was simply not built to weather.
But thanks to its people and their preparation, CyrusOne met the challenge to keep customers online and in business without interruption.
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Though it serves clients around the world, CyrusOne began in the Houston area and its roots are planted firmly in Texas. Preparation is nothing without the people to execute the plans, and few are resilient and hard-working as Texans.
Many of CyrusOne employees were without power at home, some had no heat and some dealt with water urgencies. But the way they prepared to respond and then jumped into action made all the difference during the crisis. Their engagement level and commitment to customer care never wavered, despite the chaos and challenges around them and their fellow residents. They proved once again CyrusOne can weather any storm and is here for the long term for both its Texas neighbors and global clientele.
Preparation and experience
Experience is often the best teacher. Texas’ winter storm of 2011, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and the COVID-19 pandemic all taught valuable lessons in response and resiliency. The storm in 2011 didn’t have Uri’s massive and widespread an impact, but it offered an opportunity to test preparedness protocols and redundancies and exposed areas of weakness that needed addressing. Harvey also proved CyrusOne’s investments in power systems could handle the toughest of situations, and its data centers could run as well on generator power if required. Then, a year of COVID-19 lockdowns taught the company how to operate at full speed despite the potential loss of on-site personnel.
Unlike unpredictable events, such as an earthquake or tornado, CyrusOne had the benefit of knowing Uri had Texas in its sights, which gave its people ample time to prepare adequately. With this gift of foresight, CyrusOne:
• Performed a Freeze Preparedness Checklist before the storm at all sites to ensure infrastructure was tested, supplies were inventoried and water connections adjusted
• Performed Freeze Protection Rounds when outside air temperatures were below 35 degrees, including a building tour, fire-sprinkler review, thermostat adjustments, heat tape and unit tests
• Contacted multiple in-state and out-of-state fuel suppliers prior to the weather event to order fuel delivery and reservations
• Staged multiple CyrusOne service delivery, global service desk and operations team members in local hotels
• Reserved hotel rooms for multiple critical infrastructure vendor engineers
• Performed interviews, documented lessons learned and captured system logs to continue enhancement of organizational process assets
• Relied heavily upon our secondary Global Service Desk location in Chandler, Arizona
Water issues negated, power provided
During Uri, Dallas’ temperature plunged to -2 degrees – its third-coldest temperature on record. In fact, Texas rarely experiences the sort of deep freeze Uri brought. And that sort of bone-chilling cold plays havoc on the water infrastructure, freezing and bursting pipes and causing water supply issues.
Years ago, CyrusOne recognized water scarcity issues in some of its operational areas and began designing data centers with water efficiency, among other sustainable principles, in mind. This includes the use of air-cooled chillers and designs for water-free cooling from the ground-up, maximizing the efficiency of systems and avoiding water dependence. Water is used in only a closed-loop system to remove heat from the data hall, but no water is consumed in the process. The water loop is filled once during construction and remains filled throughout the life of the facility.
While this design feature is part of CyrusOne’s long-term sustainability efforts, it also meant water did not affect the critical infrastructure of our data centers during Uri, when more than 12 million Texans experienced water disruption and nearly 12 million were impacted by water treatment plant issues.
And while power outages plagued the state, CyrusOne had generators and back-up generators – built-in redundancy – maintaining 100% power uptime while the grid was unavailable.
Millions in Texas, and around the globe, rely on local data centers to keep their organizations up and running, no matter the cataclysmic weather event. CyrusOne’s 14 data center buildings in six Texas cities and their 237 MW of installed capacity met the challenge for more than 5500 customers during Uri. They remained online without interruption due to our people and their preparation – and that’s the rule, not the exception.
Like the weather events before it, Uri provided an opportunity to learn and prepare. The data compiled in February 2021 – what went wrong and what went right – will inform better future decisions and help us begin designing for the future of data, no matter the unpredictability of mother nature and no matter the data center location. In Uri’s wake, the soul searching has begun across all the infrastructure, power utility being just one. But the reckoning has also started on the data center side, as the industry considers digital infrastructure and how it can make the next crisis less of a fire drill.