Hosted Storage Saves Silicon Valley Data

Violent storms in San Francisco prove no match for local and online data backup services.

LA HONDA, Calif.—Naturally, eBay data mining engineer Dave Worthington and his wife, Carolyn, dread weather-related power outages in their sparsely populated village in the Santa Cruz Mountains, about 1,500 feet above Silicon Valley here on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Worthington and his family—along with a record 884,000 other Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the Bay Area—were powerless this weekend thanks to a series of three violent wind and rain storms from the Arctic Circle that tore through Northern California on the way inland to the deserts of Nevada and Utah.

Residents of Silicon Valley aren't used to this kind of weather phenomenon. Storms like this come along only once every few years, unlike in the Midwest and on the Gulf Coast, which are hit hard by cyclones and hurricanes on a regular basis.

But Worthington was able to back up all his data without loss—despite the sudden power outage Friday morning.

eBay gives its employees Dell laptops with batteries, so they have time to stop what they're doing, save all their data, and close down cleanly, saving to a network file server in the data center, or to the local drive.

"The file server backs up everything pretty much hourly automatically—all except data that is kept in memory on laptops. I would imagine we lost no data whatsoever due to the outages this weekend," Worthington told eWEEK.

The storm also gave hosted solutions a chance to prove their stuff. 365 Main, a huge, city block-sized co-location center in downtown San Francisco that hosts such busy customers as Craigslist, Charles Schwab, Red Envelope and a good portion of the Sun grid system, came through the storms with flying colors.

Earlier this year, an underground explosion cut power to a 365 Main. Click here to read more.

People who work at home and who do not have a corporate file server automatically saving data or an extra storage hard drive might want to consider signing up for an online storage account with companies such as Amazon's E3, Carbonite, Mozy or Verizon. All of them offer limited or unlimited online storage for a monthly or annual fee.

Each can be programmed to back up data automatically in the background with little or no loss of performance on a desktop or laptop.

A Verizon sales representative told eWEEK that the online storage service has indeed seen an upsurge in the last several weeks as winter weather sets in.

"People are finally realizing how easy and inexpensive it is to protect their computers with services like ours," the sales rep said. "Once you lose a hard drive or can't get to your data because of an outage, you realize firsthand how valuable it is to have a backup."

Many IT-related companies gave their employees the day off Friday or offered their people the option to work from home. Sun Microsystems, Oracle, Cisco Systems, Intel and other major IT corporations headquartered here in the Valley had a large number of absences Friday, with downed trees blocking roadways and small lakes of water slowing up traffic on Interstate 101, the landmark Bayshore Freeway.

Parking lots everywhere were sparse; numerous meetings were canceled as workers elected to not brave the elements.

About 50,000 business and residential customers were still dark on Sunday as PG&E crews worked around the clock to repair lines damaged from downed trees and power poles.

However, the Worthingtons were hit harder than most people; they were without electrical power for more than two days—from Friday morning through Sunday.

For five consecutive days, Silicon Valley was battered by winds of up to 100 mph, 30-foot waves on the coastside and buckets of precipitation that have flooded streets, parking lots and freeways. On Sunday, the weather began to settle down, and the power started flickering back on in most neighborhoods.

The utility companies always give higher priority to the larger cities, such as nearby Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Redwood City, than La Honda—whose most famous resident is rocker Neil Young—when the electricity goes out. But the Worthingtons, who have lived in this heavily forested community of about 2,200 for more than two decades, are accustomed to outages here because of the nature of their rural neighborhood.

"I saw what was happening, so I phoned the [eBay] office Friday morning and told them I'd be working from home," Worthington said. "But right after that, we lost power at home, too, so could only work off my laptop batteries for a few hours. So I couldn't get a lot of work done."

Worthington said he normally uses a backup generator for supplying power at home in such circumstances, but it wouldn't work when he tried to start it on Friday.

"I made the mistake of not shutting it down correctly the last time we used it," he said.

"The cylinder was out of oil and completely dried out. What you're supposed to do with a gas-powered generator is remove the spark plugs, drop in a teaspoon of oil, put the plugs back in, cycle the starter once to get the inside lubed, and leave it in a compression mode. I learned my lesson this time."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...