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Friday, 31 October 2008 13:39

HP outdoes MythBusters with a spectacular disaster recovery test explosion

Is it possible to have fun while you're working? It sure is, as HP proved by destroying a datacenter full of their enterprise server and storage products in an explosion simulating a gas leak that demonstrated complete fail-over of all the servers in less than two minutes.

Although this happened in mid-2007, I only just stumbled across it, enjoyed it immensely and reckon that it's a "classic" demo, so I simply had to share it with you.

In a test that could have been scripted for popular TV series MythBusters (more about that later), a team of Hewlett Packard engineers set up a real mini-datacenter test site at a high-tech ballistics center managed by National Technical Systems (NTS) in Camden, Arkansas.

HP's objective was to blow it up and prove that the servers, running a mix of operating systems, would all properly fail-over to a remote recovery site in a short time.

Just as in the TV series, they had done this sort of thing before and decided to increase the scale of destructiveness.

The previous test, also carried out for them by NTS, involved a .308-calibre rifle bullet (travelling at nearly 3,000 feet per second) passing through a refrigerator-sized HP StorageWorks XP12000 Disk Array cabinet to see if the array would continue operating.

Indeed they did, and you can read in Why was the HP XP12000 able to take the bullet and keep running? how the array's design and construction contributed to this.

You can also watch it happening. View the XP Bulletproof video and the XP Bulletproof documentary: A behind the scenes look. My only question about this demo is whether or not the bullet was rather carefully aimed to avoid any absolutely critical single-point-of-failure component of the array.

Before proceeding, lest you should accuse me of being a biased fan, let me disclose that I have no professional business relationship whatsoever with HP. (My only relationship with them is as a consumer, buying several of their multifunction printer/fax/scanner/copier machines.)

However I've long admired them for their excellence in design and engineering of high-tech equipment, from way back decades ago when I was a practising industrial chemist and chemistry teacher (even before I joined IBM, who also do lots of fine engineering). Wikipedia has this to say about them, and also places them (at the moment) at the top of this list of the largest technology companies in the world.

The "bulletproof" demonstration certainly is impressive, but I would up the term to spectacular for their follow-up act, the exploding datacenter. We're now talking about true MythBusters-style showmanship!


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I'm sure that iTWire readers are familiar with the cult TV series MythBusters (screened in Australia on the SBS free-to-air television channel). If not, here's a screed about them at Wikipedia and a list of their YouTube video snippets.

No, it's not, which is another website not affiliated with the TV show, but worth a look all the same.

The MythBusters show is much fun to watch, yet as well as amusement it offers lots of serious matter (such as Adam & Jamie draw a Mona Lisa in 80 milliseconds! when they compared the processing approach of a CPU versus a GPU to explain parallel processing on NVIDIA Corporation's NVISION Show.

They're particularly keen on explosions of all types and sizes, one of their most eye-catching efforts being the instantaneous fragmentation -- "vaporization" was the term used by one of the onlookers -- of a cement truck, watch it here (or here).

I would rate the HP datacenter demolition ranks right up there with the best from MythBusters! It has great entertainment value and certainly proves their point, that their Large Enterprise Business team have the ability to engineer what they call disaster-proof solutions.

Now there's confidence for you! I would have used the term "disaster resistant" (just like some watches and cameras are classified as water resistant rather than waterproof). Elsewhere they talk about "Disaster Tolerant" Solutions which to me smacks of a slightly lower degree of confidence, but I won't quibble.

The hardware/software products used for this test included HP Integrity servers, HP StorageWorks disk products, HP Software, HP Procurve networking and HP ProLiant Servers. They were running five operating environments: HP-UX (their variant of UNIX), HP OpenVMS, HP NonStop, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and Microsoft® Windows Server 2003.

"It literally entailed" HP said, "blowing up a cluster of systems (virtually the entire spectrum of HP products, including the substantially lower priced, standards-based systems and storage arrays), which were all running real applications used by simulated users to prove fail-over would not cause business disruption."


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"To simulate this test, National Technical Systems (NTS) used approximately 70 pounds of C4 explosives. All charges were tied together with detonating cord and placed inside each rack to maximize damage."

"A single Exploding Bridge wire detonator was used to start the explosive train. Extreme care was taken to isolate each charge from the local power used to operate the racks."

"Despite the loss of the production data center, we showed how the business continued at the recovery site with HP disaster-tolerant offerings running on HP Integrity servers, HP Integrity NonStop servers, ProCurve Networking by HP and HP ProLiant servers."

"Applications continued to run and were accessible, transactions in process were protected and captured, and end users were totally unaware that systems were down in this Disaster Proof demo."

"One of the goals of this demonstration is to show that HP can provide all the hardware, software and services needed to design disaster tolerant solutions. HP offers the ability to provide a complete disaster tolerant solution, providing end-to-end support to meet your high availability and disaster tolerant needs."

"The support ranges from working with you to define the business continuity and availability requirements, into the consulting and design stages through implementation, testing, and on-going operational support. It includes HP software for managing and operating the environment, and operational IT Service of your operating system environment and technology choices."

"Frankly, we know that many are tired of the industry’s fancy talk, questionable promises and baffling array of technology. What HP is demonstrating are practical solutions, available now, to address very real business threats."


See all my articles, including podcasts ...
A Meaningful Look at Desktop and Enterprise Computing

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Anyway, I liked it and think you will too. You can read more about this demo at the HP Disaster Proof Video Questions and Answers page.

For your convenience, I've embedded the YouTube version of the demo at bottom.

TIP: For lots of general resource links on the vital topic of system availability and recoverability, refer to the infrastructure page of my website and jump to the section labelled "Backup, Continuity, Recovery." Visit either my primary web server here or, if that's unavailable (and, ironically enough, it happens to be off the air right now as I pen this article) then visit the secondary server here.

My web strategy, by the way, is to use two quite inexpensive hosting services in widely-separated cities, rather than a single sophisticated but hyper-expensive hosting service. This approach meets my needs and my budget quite well.

To conclude, last Saturday's episode of MythBusters was about the myth of "exploding trousers" ... Ouch!

And I'm looking forward to tomorrow night's episode too, which examines the question: "Can a small, disposable butane lighter suddenly ignite with the force of several sticks of dynamite?"

See all my articles, including podcasts ...
A Meaningful Look at Desktop and Enterprise Computing

Have some fun with a challenge or two that I've devised for you!
Go visit the iTWire TechWords Interactive Crosswords section.

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Tony Austin

Worked at IBM from 1970, for a quarter century, then founded Asia/Pacific Computer Services to provide IT consulting and software development services (closed company at end of 2013). These says am still involved with IT as an observer and commentator, as well as attempting to understand cosmology, quantum mechanics and whatever else will keep my mind active and fend off deterioration of my grey matter.

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