Keeping Japan online

Melissa Chua
telecomasia.net
Data center outages are hardly uncommon, with regular recovery efforts focused on restoring business critical applications. But the devastating 9.2 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan in March proved rather unique from a disaster recovery perspective due to the sheer magnitude of the quake and the large number of citizens impacted by the subsequent power outages in the country.
 
“The March quake marked the first time we’ve seen a huge disaster hit a technologically advanced nation that relies heavily on power and communications,” said Bruce Cowper, a group manager at Microsoft’s Trustworthy Computing group, who added Microsoft’s data center disaster recovery operations in Japan had to be shifted from a business-centered disaster recovery plan to one more focused on people's communications needs.
 
Cowper added communication became first priority in the direct aftermath of the quake, particularly due to the breakdown of mobile networks across the country. “People’s immediate needs were to let family and friends know they were fine, hence efforts were focused on keeping Hotmail and Microsoft’s messenger services online,” he said.
 
Microsoft’s datacenter in Japan lay within the earthquake zone but was physically unaffected by the tsunami. However, the facility, which hosts Japan-localized versions of Microsoft services such as Hotmail, MSN and Bing, grappled with power and resource issues caused by the disaster.
 
The need to keep communications services running was coupled with the challenge of scaling back on the volume of infrastructure running in the data center due to the power shortages in the area. Cowper said the team needed a course of action that would lighten the load on local partners such as hard disk and server vendors. The Microsoft team decided to migrate data from its key communications services out of Japan into data centers in the United States, and gained permission from the Japanese government to do so.
 
Time was spent determining the priority for the migration queue, based on user accounts most recently used. The decision was made to migrate mailboxes immediately with their associated data coming in over the next few days, in order to reduce the impact on customers. “We found there was no way we could perform real-time migration with the impacted bandwidth, you’re talking petabytes of data coupled with limited bandwidth due to damaged submarine cables. With the mailbox migration being virtually instant, people could receive new mail, access their address books and use other communications programs such as messenger pretty much without interruption,” said Cowper.

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