S.F. Power Outage Ripples Across The Web

S.F. Power Outage Ripples Across The Web
S.F. Power Outage Ripples Across The Web 1201136 

By Thomas Claburn
July 25, 2007

A power outage in downtown San Francisco and south of the city Tuesday 
affected some 40,000 Pacific Gas & Electric customers directly and 
millions of Internet users from all over who were unable to access 
several popular Web sites that went offline.,, Six Apart's blog sites (,,,, and were all 
inaccessible for part of the day. Other sites, including,, and, also experienced problems.

The power failure began at about 1:30 p.m. Pacific time, according to 
PG&E, and power was restored to all customers within two hours.

According to a PG&E spokesperson, power fluctuations began triggering 
safety breakers, resulting in intermittent power spikes. Those 
fluctuations appear to have damaged an underground transformer that 
exploded about 2:30 pm. The company is still investigating the caused of 
the power fluctuation and expects to issue an update later today.

Many of affected Web sites are hosted at 365 Main, which "develops and 
operates the world's finest data centers." Like all serious data 
centers, 365 Main has backup generators for just such an occasion. Those 
backup generators didn't work as planned, however.

"While backup electrical infrastructure is installed in the facility to 
defend against power surges, an initial investigation has revealed that 
certain 365 Main back-up generators did not start when the initial power 
surge hit the building," marketing VP Miles Kelly said in a statement. 
"On-site facility engineers responded and manually started affected 
generators allowing stable power to be restored at approximately 2:34 
p.m. across the entire facility."

It took several more hours for Six Apart to get its sites up and running 
again, according to a company spokesperson.

Kelly said that 365 Main is still investigating why the backup generated 
did not activate and that the company intends to take steps to prevent 
this from happening again. He also said the company's diesel generators 
would continue to operate until the cause of the backup generator 
failure had been identified.

The failure of the backup generators may be a consequence of 365 Main's 
reliance on a flywheel uninterruptible power supply, a kinetic energy 
technology considered to be more "green" than a battery-driven UPS. On 
the Data Center Knowledge blog, technology journalist Rich Miller 
reports, "Some customers speculated about a flywheel issue."

At InformationWeek's San Francisco office, where computer monitors went 
dark several times on Tuesday afternoon, the power failure pointed out 
one advantage of laptop PCs over desktop systems: Laptop batteries serve 
as an emergency power supply, preventing the data loss that may be 
experienced by desktop systems when wall outlets go dead.

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