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Silicon Valley Must Remember This If An Earthquake Hits: 'Don't Make Real Life A Beta Test'

According to solution providers, the greater impact of a massive earthquake in Silicon Valley likely would be felt on California's infrastructure, including roads, power and communications.

California, and the entire North American IT industry, is only two inches away from a disaster.

That two inches -- the average distance the San Andreas fault moves each year -- has the potential to unleash an earthquake of epic proportions directly under the San Francisco and San Jose area of California, home to Silicon Valley and the headquarters of most of the biggest names in IT.

And it's not just Silicon Valley at direct risk of a major earthquake. The San Andreas fault runs more than 800 miles through California, passing directly under Silicon Valley but also passing just east of the Los Angeles area, home to the nation's busiest seaports, which serve as the entryway for IT equipment imports.

[Related: Silicon Valley: One Earthquake Away From IT Disaster?]

Despite the ever-present threats, life in the IT industry carries on with some IT vendors and their solution provider partners giving little thought to the possible risk of an earthquake.

Indeed, earthquake fears pale in comparison with the problem of how to find even more bright, high-paid IT professionals to move to the increasingly crowded Silicon Valley area, said Chris Saso, executive vice president of technology at Dasher Technologies, a Campbell, Calif.-based solution provider.

"There's so much talent here, but it's still hard to find people," Saso told CRN. "We're looking to fill a few openings."

Nigel Glennie, corporate communications director at Cisco Systems, told CRN that the lure of Silicon Valley overcomes any fears of what might happen in a big earthquake.

"I get to work with tens of thousands of smart people all in one place," Glennie said. "That's why I'm here. With a global workforce, there are choices of where to live. But we choose to live here."


The Danger

The San Andreas fault is the best-known source of a potential catastrophe for California because of the length of the fault. But the potential for large earthquakes extends beyond the San Andreas fault. The West Coast is ground zero for several fault lines due to the movement of the earth between two major tectonic plates, including the North American plate and the Pacific plate.

And while much is known about these faults, geologists are continually learning more about what may be on the horizon.

Indeed, the American Geophysical Union in April reported that, using new radar technology, it discovered a connection between two previously known faults.

"Our new model of the Hayward and Calaveras faults argues that they should be treated as a single system with potential for earthquake ruptures generating events with magnitudes greater than 7, posing a higher seismic hazard to the East San Francisco Bay Area than previously considered," the report concluded.

The U.S. Geological Survey early this year actually modified its expected rate of a magnitude 6.7 or larger quake downward to an average of one per 6.3 years in California, compared with previous estimates of one per 4.8 years.

However, the organization at the same time upped its estimation of the likelihood that a massive magnitude 8.0 quake would hit the state within the next 30 years to 7.0 percent, up from the previous estimate of 4.7 percent.

A massive quake in the San Francisco Bay area is a question of when, not if, Dasher Technologies' Saso said.

"And you'd have to be living under a rock to deny there would be an impact," Saso said. "We're living at the center of what would happen."


Convergence of Fault Lines and IT

Silicon Valley is home to some of the biggest names in IT, spanning the full range of products and services from hardware, software, services and custom systems.

Among the major IT companies on which channel partners depend and whose headquarters sit on or near major fault lines, according to the San Jose Mercury News' ranking by revenue, are Apple, Hewlett-Packard, Google, Intel, Cisco, Oracle, Synnex, SanDisk, Symantec, and Sanmina-SCI.

The list also includes NetApp, VMware, AMD, Salesforce.com, Nvidia, Juniper, Adobe Systems, Equinix, Brocade and Super Micro Computer.

Others on the list, while not working directly with channel partners but nevertheless vital to the IT solutions sold through the channel, include a wide range of semiconductor firms including Applied Materials, Aligent Technologies, Lam Research, Xilinx, Maxim Integrated Products, Synopsys and Altera.

Southern California, on the other hand, includes the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, home to the busiest ports in the U.S. based on number of containers handled.

California May Not Slide Into The Ocean, But...

It is a common misconception, perpetuated by Hollywood and Syfy channel thrillers including the 2015 Dwayne Johnson thriller "San Andreas," that a major quake on the San Andreas fault could result in cities crashing to the ground, tsunami waves rolling over San Francisco, and California sliding into the ocean.

In reality, the "Big One," as the expected large-scale quake is commonly referred to, will not be so dramatic. However, the business impact could be widespread.

While no building is earthquake-proof, the fact that buildings in California are built to some of the world'' toughest standards when it comes to seismic resistance helps lessen the chance of massive building collapses in an earthquake.

Instead, according to IT solution providers, the greater impact likely will be felt on the state's infrastructure, including the roads, power and communications on which the country's IT business depends.

Many of those solution providers look to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake as a guide to the kind of issues the IT industry would face after a massive temblor. That magnitude 6.9 earthquake, which was centered about 10 miles northeast of Santa Cruz, resulted in more than 60 deaths and nearly 3,800 injuries. Damages included the collapse of a major freeway and the collapse of about 40 buildings in Santa Cruz.


Throughout the San Francisco area, about 12,000 homes and 2,600 businesses were damaged or destroyed, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, which estimated the total cost from the earthquake to be $6 billion in 1989 dollars.

Given California's large population, the roads in the area of a potential earthquake strike could be a bottleneck to recovery, said John Woodall, vice president of engineering at Integrated Archive Systems, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based solution provider.

"We just built a new Bay Bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland," Woodall told CRN. "If that collapsed, there would be huge issues with traffic."

There are a lot of data centers in the San Francisco Bay area, and a collapse of the power grid would be a huge problem, Dasher Technologies' Saso said.

"A lot of data centers talk about having long-term contracts for fuel for their backup generators, or having contracts with several suppliers," he said. "But in the 1989 quake, suppliers couldn't drive their trucks to deliver fuel."

Carl Wolfston, principal at Headlands Associates, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based solution provider, said he is less worried about the chance of buildings falling than about the communications infrastructure after a large earthquake.

"I believe the buildings are going to stand," Wolfston told CRN. "But what about the ditches filled with fiber cables? If a ditch shifts three feet because of a quake, that will be the weak link in our communications."


Disaster Dry Run

Custom-system builders this year got a taste of what might happen if an earthquake in Southern California were to damage either the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports or the infrastructure that surrounds them.

A work slowdown and eventual stoppage between November and February, which impacted the 29 ports on the West Coast, meant that components used for building systems were stuck on ships in the harbors of Los Angeles and Long Beach instead of getting to the warehouses.

Todd Swank, senior director of product marketing at Equus Computer Systems, a Minneapolis-based custom-system builder that has its main production facilities in the Los Angeles suburb of City of Industry, said the company was scrambling for components during that time.

"In the City of Industry, you have warehouse after warehouse of suppliers, which makes our supply chain efficient," Swank told CRN. "Just-in-time manufacturing becomes easy when so many manufacturers are located together. But take away that supply, and think about the logistics mess. Wipe out that supply, and the industry would take years to recover."

The impact from the short-term closure of the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports was felt in the Silicon Valley area as well.

Andrew Kretzer, director of sales and marketing at Bold Data Technology, a Fremont, Calif.-based custom-system builder, told CRN via email that the port closures had a huge impact because of inventory delays experienced by key suppliers.

"Smaller components were able to be shipped via air freight to bypass the port strike, but larger, heavier items that needed to be sent via sea cargo were in severe shortage," Kretzer wrote.

Losses for Bold Data included some potential new business as the company had to focus on servicing existing customers, Kretzer wrote.

"Additionally, we needed to pay out a tremendous amount of overtime," he wrote. "We had to meet customer deadlines and as our suppliers delivered components many weeks after they were scheduled, we had to stuff six weeks of orders into one week. It wasn't pretty, but we did it by working around the clock, weekends and holidays."


Ready For The 'Big One?'

Despite the prospect of falling buildings and freeways and damages to power and communications infrastructures, businesses in the Silicon Valley area are more likely than not to say they are prepared to survive a major quake due to redundant facilities and offices.

Saso said Dasher Technologies has offices in Oregon, Florida and Alabama, with the Alabama office serving as a disaster recovery facility.

"We use industry-standard virtualization technology and shared storage so we can run our operations from either facility," he said. "We also depend on cloud solutions like Office 365. Our big issue would be connectivity between the two."

However, while a lot of companies have done a good job of protecting their intellectual property in case of a major quake, how the rest of the company survives depends in part on its size, Integrated Archive Systems' Woodall said.

"Google is a huge company and should have the ability to recover," he said. "But it's harder for smaller companies. There's an assumption that public companies are doing what they need to do to protect themselves. But in a major event, what happens when they pull down their disaster recovery binder, dust it off, and start making calls? It takes time to make sure everyone knows what to do. And a lot of companies may not have something as simple as a calling tree."

Cisco's Glennie, who is a part of Cisco's incident response team, said that any responsible company has to look at the possibility of a major quake.

Cisco, for its part, conducts incident response drills worldwide with teams from legal, human resources, executive, communications and other organizations. The company also has multiple data centers world for geographical resiliency. "It makes good sense for companies in our part of the world to be ready," he said. "Don't make real life your beta test."

An Intel spokesperson told CRN that the company has business continuity and contingency plans in place, with corporate offices in Santa Clara and Folsom, Calif., and manufacturing scattered around the world. Each organization within Intel has house drills to test continuity plans, the spokesperson said.

Intel is unique in that it also has executive resiliency. While Intel's CEO lives in Silicon Valley, its president and chairman live in Oregon.

The "Big One," should it ever happen, also could be an opportunity to see what the citizens of San Francisco and Silicon Valley can do in the face of a disaster, Woodall said.

"I hope to see altruism," he said. "Will companies help each other in this case? The concentration of people, money, and resources here is unique. A major quake here would ripple around the world. But at the same time, the kind of cooperation that makes the Valley what it is could kick in to help with the recovery. We have a lot of partnerships. We could be ready to roll up our sleeves and help where we can."

This article originally appeared as an exclusive on the CRN Tech News App for iOS and Windows 8.

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