How power plant closures will affect data centres

HULL, Quebec — As electrical utilities remove coal-fired plants from service, governments will be building secondary data centres in remote locations with their own power sources, a wide-area networking expert says.


“What we’re seeing in North America and around the world is governments and universities building data centres in remote regions,” said Bill St. Arnaud, chief research officer at Ottawa-based CANARIE Inc., a wide-area network linking universities and research centres. “We’re using the network to help governments build backup data sources to sites where they get their own power independent of the electrical grid.”


St. Arnaud, who made his comments at Government Symposium (GovSym) near Ottawa on Tuesday, said some of these sites are hydro dams built in the 1920s but later decommissioned.


Ontario Power Generation (OPG) shut down the Lakeview coal-fired plant in Mississauga in 2005 and had planned to close the Nanticoke, located on Lake Erie about 100 km west of Niagara Falls, this year. The closure has been postponed, but St. Arnaud said once OPG does stop burning coal at Nanticoke, Ontario will rely on nuclear power for 70 per cent of its wattage.


“If one of these (nuclear power ) plants goes offline the province will have to have rotating brownouts or blackouts,” he said. “Our data centres will be impacted because they consume huge amounts of power. A blackout is easy for a car plant or school. You shut down and send the kids home or send the workers home and so forth, but it’s much harder for a data centre. Sure you can use the (backup power supply) for a while but if this continues over months or years, it’s untenable.”


St. Arnaud spoke to about 70 public sector IT professionals on a panel discussion on disaster recovery. Another panelist was Glenn Scott, infrastructure advisor with IT services firm Innovapost Inc.


Scott has implemented backup data centre plans for public sector clients and said one requirement often overlooked is testing.


“Testing is always a very sensitive topic, because it deals with mission-critical production data and potential outages,” he said.


Failing over to a backup site is not as simple as it sounds.


“The reality is, today, systems need to interact with many other systems,” Scott said. “It’s not just one server running one application. You have a Web component, a data component, perhaps a middle tier component.”


Other GovSym speakers included Enrique Salem, the new chief executive officer of Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif.

During a keynote session, Salem gave examples of IT professionals going too far in improving security at the expense of

At a separate session, the CTO of Public Works and Government Services Canada, Jirka Danek, explained how the federal government is rolling out public key infrastructure (PKI) to all employees.

GovSym was produced by IT World Canada Inc., publisher of Network World Canada.


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