Data Recovery Firm Helps Businesses Brace for Tornado Season

The 8,000-square-foot center "bunker" meets FEMA 361 construction standards to withstand a direct impact of an F5 tornado.

by Paula Burkes, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City / April 10, 2019

(TNS) - It’s tornado season in Oklahoma; that time every year when my neighbor shuffles the beloved baby portraits of her kids from the mantle to the storm shelter.

For businesses, the seasonal fear, of course, is that they’ll lose their most precious asset: data.

Oklahoma City-based Midcon Recovery Solutions has a precaution for that: two unmarked, double steel-reinforced, windowless concrete buildings in Oklahoma City and one in Broken Arrow in which the company hosts the data of hundreds of organizations — from energy and telecommunications companies to insurance agencies and banks. For $100 a month to several thousands of dollars, companies rent rack spaces of 1 ¾ inches to 200 square feet.

On Monday, I toured Midcon’s newest, northwest Oklahoma City data center, which was built in 2017.

Company president Kurt Kraft and business development officer Greg Blakely call the 8,000-square-foot center a “bunker,” and it looks as much. Its concrete walls are 12 inches thick. And there’s a grounding ring circling the roof, so that any lightning strikes are channeled down a pipe and into the ground away from the data inside.

The bunker meets Federal Emergency Management Agency 361 construction standards to withstand a direct impact of an F5 tornado, Blakely said.

“But more likely, it’s power outages and floods at their business locations that impact most customers,” he said. The bunker, he said, serves as a backup, or co-location, facility for the data.

“It would cost businesses well over $1 million to build their own data centers,” Blakely said. “So, leasing space is much more cost-efficient,” he said. “Here, they can contract and expand as they need to.”

Added Kraft, an industrial engineer who formerly worked for Lucent Technologies, “As soon as many companies build data centers, they become either too small or too big. Plus, it’s like building a pool at your house,” he said, “It’s nice, but it won’t increase your resell value.”

I asked Kraft if “the cloud” removes the need for such data centers.

“We are the cloud,“ Kraft said. “The cloud is any computer not standing next to the primary data; there’s nothing magical about it,” he said. “Google, Amazon and others have data centers somewhere, though they may not be in Oklahoma,” he said.

Midcon bunkers are a 20-minute drive away for most customers, Kraft said. The company, he said, also offers business continuity facilities where displaced employees can set up temporary operations.

Eerily, entering the bunker was like stepping into a spaceship. There’s two-stage security required at the main and inside doors, where employees and customers’ IT staff must swipe customized fobs and also press their thumbs for biometric identification.

Inside, Midcon conditions the power coming in from OG&E and gas tanks contain oxygen inhibitors to envelope flames in the event of an electrical fire. Cables from various internet providers enter through a “meet me” corner space and snake through the ground level of the data hall.

Data racks sit a foot off the ground. And in an adjacent mechanical room, generators with battery backup stand ready for emergencies and air conditioners pump cold air into the ground level, while the heat that the computers generate continuously is sucked back through vents in a drop ceiling.

In the outside plant are condensers and backup diesel-operated generators.

“If the bunker takes a direct hit, we can ‘turtle-up,’ or temporarily close the doors and ride out the storm,” Kraft said.

“This is built to California-seismic level, with a continual concrete pour as one structure. So, the building can’t fight against itself and bring itself down."


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