Storm season is coming — and while we often think about the effects a major storm, such as a hurricane, might have on our data center, we might not consider another culprit: the solar flare.
The solar flare is the most severe category of sun storms, and their impact is still largely unknown. But they happen more often than most people realize: The sun unleashed a monster X-class solar flare in March, which caused an hour-long blackout in high-frequency radio communications, according to a report on NBC.
Solar flares occur when built-up magnetic energy on the sun’s atmosphere is suddenly released, creating an intense eruption. Most of the time this energy drifts off into space. But sometimes it hits Earth — and while the radiation from a solar flare reaches the planet in just a few minutes, it can take days for the full effects to surface.
This magnetic activity and induced electric currents can cause a range of problems here on Earth, from electrical surges to over-current conditions and power outages. And that could permanently damage IT and communications equipment, resulting in lost revenue from unexpected downtime.
Effects of a solar flare on the power grid
Electric fluctuations caused by solar flares can blow out transformers in power grids or disrupt electronic systems in satellites (which interferes with cellular and GPS signals travelling to in-car map systems and airplane navigation systems, among many others).
The most powerful geomagnetic storm ever recorded occurred 150 years ago. Dubbed the Carrington Event, it caused telegraph networks to fail all over the world, even setting telegraph paper on fire.
If a solar flare of that magnitude were to hit Earth today, it would be much more devastating: It could knock down the national power grid for weeks or even months. The amount of economic damage — in the trillions of dollars — is hard to comprehend.
How solar flares could harm data centers
Electrical and communications systems that data centers depend on are more likely to be affected by a solar storm than the data center infrastructure itself. But a major solar storm would disrupt the radio and satellite-based communication systems that many data centers rely on for operations and disaster recovery.
The reality, though, is we don’t really know how a major solar flare would disrupt the data center — or the amount of damage it’s capable of.
Proactive steps to protect your data center from a solar flare
While we can’t stop a solar flare from hitting Earth, there are steps we can take to protect our data center infrastructure from the worst effects of a major solar event:
Transient Voltage Surge Suppression (TVSS): This can greatly reduce the effects of power surges and spikes at multiple levels, including service entrance switchgear, distribution switchgear and point-of-application.
Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS): An online, double-conversion UPS system can mitigate the effects of harmful electrical transients and allow standby generators to take over in the event of a power outage.
On-site Emergency Standby Generator: To prepare for a long-term electrical outage, a generator (and plenty of fuel) will keep the data center running until power can be restored.
So should you be worried? Experts say there’s a high probability that a significant solar event will occur again and affect our power grid. After investing so much in data center infrastructure, it makes sense to invest in technology that can protect it from the potentially debilitating effects of a monster X-class solar flare.