Is Your Data Center Protected from EMP Threats?

By: In: Data Centers On: Nov 21, 2014

What is EMP (electromagnetic pulse)? An EMP (electromagnetic pulse) is a sudden burst of high-energy electromagnetic radiation generated by solar storms or high-altitude nuclear blasts. The damaging current and extremely high voltage surges can result in the complete destruction of data processing and storage systems.

What is the risk of an EMP? EMPs are getting more attention in the data center industry, particularly because of concerns about potential terrorist-sponsored nuclear activity. A nuclear blast 60 miles up in the atmosphere could expose about 1.5 million square miles of territory to EMPs. Beyond man-made causes of an EMP, solar storms are also a concern. Although the two recent solar storms in September weren’t strong enough to hurt electronics on the ground, they’re certainly a reminder of a pending risk.

The U.S. government is taking notice, as well. Just last year, Congress introduced the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (HR 3410), which would require the government to “proactively educate owners and operators of critical infrastructure . . . of the threat of EMP event.” According to a 2008 U.S. government report, recovering from an EMP event and repairing data center infrastructure, or the power grid, would take up to four or 10 years adding up to over $2 trillion in costs.

What are my options for an EMP-resistant data center? Most enterprises would not consider protecting their data centers from electromagnetic pulses to be a sound investment due to the risk-to-cost ratio (i.e., the likelihood of a solar storm or nuclear attack is much less than that of other natural or man-made disasters). Given the potentially devastating effects of an EMP, however, enterprises are now looking to EMP-ready data center providers to protect their mission-critical data.

In particular, underground data centers promote their ability to be EMP-resistant – though it’s important to note that being underground does not automatically mean the facility is immune to the effects of an EMP. To be truly protected, data centers must undergo rigorous structural planning, testing and certification procedures.

For example, Iron Mountain’s National Data Center in Western Pennsylvania has been proven to protect its data center customers against EMPs. Located 220 feet below ground in a 145+ acre former limestone mine, the underground data center facility naturally absorbs 90 percent of the EMP pulses – which greatly reduces the cost and impact of any minimal residual shielding required in a customer’s individual space. We then work closely with our customers to ensure their electrical, mechanical and power infrastructure and subsystems are thoroughly shielded and tested to be EMP-resistant.

For more information on our underground data center, please take a virtual tour of Iron Mountain’s National Data Center.

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About the author

Sam Gopal

Sam Gopal is the Director of Product Management for Iron Mountain’s Data Center service line. He has over 15 years of experience in management consulting, IT systems integration, business process improvement and corporate strategy. Sam has worked in a variety of industries including high technology, automotive, department of defense and information management. Sam holds an MS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University and a BS in Mechanical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology.