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Thursday, August 20, 2015

some data damaged by lightning at Google data centre at Belgium

For millions life starts everyday with Social media – Facebook, Emails and more  – they log in, read, post messages, share all that they see with captions ‘must read’- ‘most important’- ‘you just should not miss this’; ‘share this if you are caring’.  Multitudes of people do not understand that they are adding to e-storage - every day, millions of such messages, photos, links, audios,  videos and more – technically ‘huge chunk of data’ is littered on world wide web. 

There have to be Servers and Storage medium enabling retention and access by all users.  So, there are ‘Date Centres’ - technically, Data Centre is a facility that houses Computer systems, associated components and storage systems.  It generally includes backup power supplies, redundant data connections, and security devices also.   For any Company, IT operations are a crucial aspect of its organizational requirements, the crucial aspect being business continuity.  Without the system and the data contained, the operations would be impaired and to minimize the chances of disruption, there have to be sufficient back-up preferably at different places.  The Data Centre has to be of high integrity and functionality. 

Lightning is one of the most beautiful displays in nature. It is also one of the most deadly natural phenomena known to man. With bolt temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun and shockwaves beaming out in all directions, lightning is a lesson in physical science and humility.Beyond its powerful beauty, it can cause havoc killing people and destroying property.

Lightning is a sudden electrostatic discharge during an electrical storm between electrically charged regions of a cloud (called intra-cloud lightning or IC), between that cloud and another cloud (CC lightning), or between a cloud and the ground (CG lightning). The charged regions in the atmosphere temporarily equalize themselves through this discharge referred to as a strike if it hits an object on the ground. Although lightning is always accompanied by the sound of thunder, distant lightning may be seen but be too far away for the thunder to be heard.

Lightning destroys property – it is a peril included in Standard Fire and Special Perils Policy.  Any loss or damage to the subject matter insured attributable to lightning is within the purview of SFSP Policy.

The rapid adoption of Internet enabled devices, coupled with the shift from consumer side computing to cloud based system has accelerated the growth of large scale date centres.  Driven by significant improvements in hardware affordability and the exponential growth of Big Data, the modern Internet company encompasses a wide range of characteristics including personalized user experiences and minimal downtime.  Google explains that rather than storing each user's data on a single machine or set of machines, they distribute all data—including their own—across many computers in different locations. Google then chunks and replicates the data over multiple systems to avoid a single point of failure. The  data chunks are randomly named as an extra measure of security, making them unreadable to the human eye.  Even as we work, Google servers, automatically back up critical data. So when accidents happen—if  one’s computer crashes or gets stolen— one can get back up and running sooner !

Despite best of precautions, things can still go wrong.  [Insurers understand that too well].  Google says data has been wiped from discs at one of its data centres in Belgium - after it was struck by lightning four times. Reports suggest that some  people have permanently lost access to their files as a result.A number of disks damaged following the lightning strikes did, however, later became accessible.

Generally, data centres require more lightning protection than most other buildings.While four successive strikes might sound highly unlikely, lightning does not need to repeatedly strike a building in exactly the same spot to cause additional damage.

BBC quotes Justin Gale, project manager for the lightning protection service Orion, as saying -  lightning could strike power or telecommunications cables connected to a building at a distance and still cause disruptions."The cabling alone can be struck anything up to a kilometre away, bring [the shock] back to the data centre and fuse everything that's in it," he said.

The Google Compute Engine (GCE) service allows Google's clients to store data and run virtual computers in the cloud. It's not known which clients were affected, or what type of data was lost.In an online statement, Google said that data on just 0.000001% of disk space was permanently affected."Although automatic auxiliary systems restored power quickly, and the storage systems are designed with battery backup, some recently written data was located on storage systems which were more susceptible to power failure from extended or repeated battery drain," it said.

The company added it would continue to upgrade hardware and improve its response procedures to make future losses less likely.A spokesman for data centre consultants Future-Tech, commented that while data centres were designed to withstand lightning strikes via a network of conductive lightning rods, it was not impossible for strikes to get through.

Although the chances of data being wiped by lightning strikes are incredibly low, users do have the option of being able to back things up locally as a safety measure.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

20th Aug 2015.


  1. Any insurance coverage for data loss due to lightning?

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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