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18 Apr 2024

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Dubai Storms Highlight Risks of Natural Disasters to Data Centers

Torrential storms in the UAE and Oman this week killed 20 people, disrupted one of the world's busiest airports in the UAE's Dubai, and brought severe flooding to the streets of cities and regions across the area.

No catastrophic internet outages have been reported, although a backbone data center link between Dubai and another emirate capital, Fujairah, went down during the storms for reportedly unknown reasons, and another outage was still being reported in Abu Dhabi as this story was being written.

Developing Hubs Growing Rapidly
Dubai is a developing data center hub, with electricity consumption on the order of 50 to 100MW. This is comparable to Riyadh within the region, and to Zurich and Berlin in Europe. Across the EMEA region, the Gulf Coast States currently account for 9% of all data center consumption. The region sits at a major inflection point, along with much of the world, in which shortages in electricity supply are expected to combine with AI-driven consumption spikes.

The GCC is expected to have more than twice its current data center footprint by 2028, with Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and Muscat all projected to be high-growth areas. Such growth leads to concerns about “keeping the lights on” at data centers in the face of natural disasters such as this week's rains.

“Many of these desert areas simply don't have the drainage systems in place to handle events like this,” according to IDCA's Chief Consultant, Auditor, and Lecturer. “But data center operators must nevertheless be prepared to whatever degree is possible when major floods and other natural disasters occur.”

Worldwide Challenge
The GCC is hardly the only region facing such challenges. Monsoonal flows every summer in the dry American Southwest routinely cause flooding problems in Arizona, Nevada, and Southern California. Similar seasonal flooding occurs in many regions of Mexico.

Catastrophic floods in South Asia in 2020 and again in 2022 put a significant portion of Pakistan under water, caused widespread damage in India as well, and brought about US$120 billion in damages. Then this week, the intense low-pressure system that flooded the UAE and Oman has spread to Pakistan and Afghanistan, with hundreds of reported fatalities.

Furthermore, flooding is not limited to desert areas. Widespread flooding in Europe in 2021 killed almost 200 people in Germany, brought about $40 billion in damages, and disrupted much of the EU for several weeks.

It should go without saying that such major, disruptive and deadly events are not only likely, but certain to continue to happen frequently throughout the world.

Resilience and Redundancy are Key
As all societies, developed and developing, in all the world's regions, become ever more dependent on internet services, the data centers that serve them, and all the additional digital infrastructure that delivers these services, it becomes ever more mission-critical to be aware of flood dangers, build resilience and redundancy into data center operations, and have policies, procedures, and training in place to mitigate – if not completely eliminate – the serious damage and disruptions that natural events can cause.

Photo from Government of Abu Dhabi.

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