Can Your Server Survive a Fire or Flood? – ioSafe Briefing Note

My dad always said, “The best fight is one you don’t have.” In the same way, the best restore is one you never have to do. We all believe that, and we do our best to avoid every restore we can. We use RAID to protect us from failing disk drives. We use n+1 power supply configurations to keep our servers running even if one of them goes out. But if a fire or flood happens, we are out of luck. Can we do better?

One could argue the reason that we have redundant power supplies and disk drives is that you’re statistically much more likely to have a disk drive fail or power supply die than you are a fire or flood. This is true, but that does not mean it will not happen. Just among my immediate colleagues where I live and work I know two who have lost everything due to a fire. And I personally experienced a flood that threatened my servers.

The Fireproof, Waterproof Challenge is Heat

Storage devices and servers are electronic devices built by an industry where a few dollars can cost you the sale, so they simply don’t design their products to survive fires or floods. It would simply cost too much. Building a watertight enclosure wouldn’t be that hard. And building one that could withstand fire is pretty easy, too. I can buy a fireproof safe that’s the size of most servers for only a few hundred dollars. It’s not rocket science.

The problem with an airtight and watertight enclosure is heat. All of the components that make up a server generate a lot of heat and that heat must be dissipated. Fail to get that heat out and you won’t need to worry about a fire outside; you’ll have one inside! That’s why we have huge heat sinks on the CPU, and fans that blow across that heat sink. Then we have even bigger fans forcing the heat out of the case. And these are the problem, since fans require incoming and outgoing vents, neither of which are very watertight.

Solving The Heat Problem

This is the problem that ioSafe decided to take on, and they have an extensive line of storage products that are designed to be both watertight and fireproof. For years ioSafe has offered fireproof, waterproof storage devices. The idea is that you can pull the drives out of one enclosure and put them in a brand new enclosure and be off and running without having to do a restore. They have also integrated these appliance with cloud backup systems so that you can have onsite and offsite data protection.

The news is that ioSafe is adding a watertight and fireproof server to their offerings. It offers a Xeon D-1520 4-Core CPU, 16-128GB of DDR4 RAM, dual 10 GbE ports, 5-40TB of data using hot-swap disk drives. ioSafe reports as ready to run VMware, Citrix, or Hyper-V, Linux, or it can come preloaded with Windows Server 2012 R2. Like its other products, you would simply call the moment a fire or flood took you out and they will overnight a new server. When the new server arrives, you take out the disks from the old server, put them in the new server, and turn it on. They also encourage you to have an empty server already purchased and ready to go.

I think this server is a great idea. The only concern I have is I believe some people will buy this server thinking that they don’t need to backup its data. Even though this server will survive a fire and a flood, it will not protect against a single deleted file without the addition of other optional products or services from ioSafe. It will also do nothing to protect against a ransomware attack. Backups of some kind are still important. But combine this server with a well-thought out backup system and you’re golden.

We discussed our concerns with ioSafe representatives, and they say that their documentation makes it very clear this system does not replace backups and that one must use some kind of backup system. Unfortunately, the product pages for this server talk about a “data recovery service,” that can recover your data “for any reason,” and I made the point that the documentation disclaimers are found in the “Precautions” section that most people don’t read. But I and ioSafe are on the same page: this watertight/fireproof is a great way to protect your data, but it also needs some kind of backup system.

StorageSwiss Take

This product can help you be better protected against fire and floods. If you use it as a primary server, it should be automatically backed up and those backup should be sent offsite. Even if you use it as a backup server, it’s still a good idea to replicate the data, since fires and floods are much less likely to happen than something that logically corrupts your data.

W. Curtis Preston (aka Mr. Backup) is an expert in backup & recovery systems; a space he has been working in since 1993. He has written three books on the subject, Backup & Recovery, Using SANs and NAS, and Unix Backup & Recovery. Mr. Preston is a writer and has spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the world. Preston’s mission is to arm today’s IT managers with truly unbiased information about today’s storage industry and its products.

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