Quake-Proof Jakarta Data Centers: No Fault In Preparation

In one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries, special building and planning considerations are a good idea. Image Credit: BigRentz

For the most part, Southeast Asia is tropical year-round; warm and humid for most days of the year and monsoon-laden throughout certain months. The predictable weather has many perks; crops are yielded consistently, and people have the privilege of sticking to one mode of clothing year-round. From an architectural perspective, the main principle of tropical building design is figuring out different methods of reducing heat gain. This is done through calculating the angle and intensity of the sun at certain times of the day, determining the most efficient way of air flow in a building and so on and so forth; all very complicated knowledge that I certainly don’t possess nor am I qualified to explain. 

Indonesia, however, is burdened with a different climatic fettle. Save the island of Borneo, much of the archipelagic nation is earthquake-prone, an unfortunate and inevitable consequence of the nation’s laying on the Ring of Fire; a term used to describe the area surrounding the rim of the Pacific ocean where constant tectonic movement results in steady volcanic and earthquake activity. Statistically, more than a 1000 earthquakes with varying magnitudes occur in Indonesia annually; such is the commonality of earthquakes and related natural disasters in the country that the Indonesian people have coined a term to sum up their attitude toward the geographic occurrence, Pasrah, which means surrendering to God. 

Although this mindset of ‘what will be, will be’ is certainly not exclusive to the aforementioned, it stirs debate as to whether a more active approach should be adopted, especially when one incident of an earthquake has the potential to displace thousands of people and cause millions of dollars in infrastructural damage. 

Drawers And Loopholes

Observers have criticised and questioned the construction of buildings in the region time and time again. The first building codes were issued in 1998 and only in 2002 was an official building code enacted by the government, having been a dust-covered and cobweb-ridden draft waiting to be passed since 1964. A decade after, a national standard on seismic-prepared building design was established, and more recently in 2019, updated codes were released; highlights included an updated map of potential danger areas and improved building regulations and specifics. 

Whilst this is a definite improvement over yesteryears, a large number of buildings in Indonesia suffer from the same infrastructural plight shared by other developing countries. Contractors are mostly private and hold a large amount of anonymity and independence in their practice; the gap between design, construction and enforcement of regulation is large, to put it lightly. Although safety standards are present, they exist in dimensions and quantity, not in material nor quality.

Always Present

At present, most of Indonesia’s data centers are located in and around Jakarta, concentrated around the capital’s business district. The location of the capital is fortunate; Jakarta itself does not sit on a geographical fault line, meaning the area only feels the effects of quakes located over a 100 miles away. On paper, this does technically qualify the city as quake-proof, but only in terminology. The city is subject to the rippling of earthquakes in its vicinity- a generally uncommon occurrence but present nonetheless. As recently as January this year, a 6.6 quake in the Indian Ocean sent high-rise buildings swaying in the capital for over ten seconds, a grim reminder of the beast in the backyard. 

By and large, the risk of quake-induced damage to data centers in and around the Jakarta metropolitan area has been greatly mitigated through location. Ideally however, the lower the risk of damage to facilities, the better assured investors feel. A data center failure is paralysing to an IT ecosystem; the loss of data, corruption of files and damage of equipment is a financial nightmare, with a report revealing the average cost of downtime per minute being a whopping 5,600 U.S. dollars. The statistics are terrifying, and investors have measures in place, both off-site and on-site to avoid such a catastrophe. 

To Prepare Is To Win

Having an off-site backup solution is often a straightforward requirement for most operators, independent of whether facilities are located in disaster-prone areas or not- it’s financially and logically sensible. Primarily, there are three options to this; operating a second emergency data center at another site, renting out a space from an external center and vendor or launching an emergency data center in the cloud. Of the trio of options, the first two are pricey and rigid in their limitations and requirements- conversely, the cloud provides an affordable and flexible solution. An emergency data center in the cloud is highly-available and reliable, operators are also able to tailor their budget according to their situational needs.

When it comes to physical building design, high-rise buildings in Jakarta- of which many facilities are housed in, already follow specific structural guidelines during construction. The devil however, is in the details. Backup power and fire suppression systems are a given, both measures are immediate counters to the risk of data center downtime. A unique aspect of quake-proof data center design can be seen in the implementation of seismic racks; special-built racks built to withstand vibrations, acoustics, damage from fire- the list of considerations goes on. Seismic-rated racks are bolted to the floor through special brackets upon installation, and are only done so after having passed rigorous tests and thorough examination. 

Beyond structural design, data center personnel in quake-prone areas such as Jakarta should be aware of their added responsibilities, and ought-to be trained in not only keeping equipment and security measures up-to-date, but also possessing the right aptitude and calmness should a crisis occur. Annual earthquake simulations could be a viable way for operators to observe their staff’s level of preparedness and competence; it is well-established that steady exposure to tense situations trains logical thinking and composed action, an invaluable asset to have during a scenario such as an earthquake.

No Crutches For Me Please

Indonesia’s surge in e-commerce, government initiatives and digital literacy has translated to massive growth in data center potential, and the nation is expected to receive continued investment in the market, forecasted to reach 3.43 billion U.S. dollars by 2027. In a country where tectonic activity is regular, quake-proof data center design is essential; the concept of Pasrah is simply too expensive a handicap to adopt.

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