ING Bank Data Centre Taken Offline By Noisy Fire System

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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Loud noise emitted during a fire drill destroyed dozens of hard disk drives at an ING Bank data centre

Bank ING has acknowledged that one of its principal data centres was severely damaged by noise emitted during a fire-system test over the weekend.

The incident highlights an increasingly common but little-understood risk affecting the data centres that drive online and cloud-based services.

Hard disk crash

‘Severe’ effect

The bank said the sound of inert gas being emitted during the fire drill at ING’s primary data centre in Bucharest, Romania had a “severe” effect on servers and storage equipment.

Data centres commonly use inert gas stored in cylinders placed around the premises to suppress fire.

The sound of the gas being emitted was louder than expected, reaching at least 130 decibels, or comparable to the sound of an active jet engine, according to unnamed individuals familiar with the matter who spoke to Motherboard.

As a result of the noise the read/write heads of several dozen hard disk drives became dislodged from their data tracks.

Ten-hour outage

The incident left local customers unable to use debit cards or online banking for about 10 hours, from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday, until a backup data centre was brought online.

ING said that to ensure data integrity it made an additional copy of the data before restoring operations.

Disruption to disk drives caused by inert-gas release systems is a relatively new problem, with Siemens researchers having identified it in a white paper published last year.

The issue is caused by the ever-increasing capacity of hard disk drives, where greater density makes them less tolerant to any offset from the centre of the data track.

In 2008, engineer Brendan Gregg demonstrated in a popular YouTube video that even shouting near data centre storage equipment tended to induce noticeable disk latency.

Makers of solid-state disk (SSD) storage point out that those products, while more expensive than hard disks, are not subject to the same latency problems as they have no moving parts.

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