Earthquake location service gets high-availability host

GeoNet 's digital processing and data storage moving to hosting service Web Drive

GeoNet, the earthquake location service run by Crown Research Institute GNS Science, is the first port of call on the web for many internet users when they notice a quake.

Previously run on in-house equipment at the GNS head office in Lower Hutt and at Taupo, GeoNet’s digital processing and data storage is in the course of being turned over to hosting service Web Drive, which provides a high-availability service from its datacentre on Auckland’s North Shore.

This has relieved GNS of the burden of duplicating its own systems for backup and of investing in expensive in-house SAN equipment, which it does not have the in-house capability to run, says datacentre manager Kevin Fenaughty.

Looking around the country for high-availability hosting providers, GNS narrowed down the potential contenders to a shortlist of three. One of the main reasons for choosing Web Drive was its impressive list of existing clients, which includes Air New Zealand, BNZ Bank, Slingshot and the ACC, Fenaughty says.

The Web Drive service runs GNS’s SeisComP3 system, analysing data from 180 seismometers nationwide, which take measurements 100 times a second, resulting in about 5 GB of data per day.

“We can’t predict earthquakes, we can only record their magnitude and where they happened,” Fenaughty says. “From that, we can assess what the probable impacts are on people, infrastructure and society without even leaving our offices.”

Such continuous monitoring, he says, is essential to allow a rapid and appropriate response.

“The effects of magnitude, depth and the style of fault rupture on structures and the environment are well modelled, so we have a good idea of what has happened when there has been any significant event detected by our instruments.

“Earthquakes don’t keep office hours. They can and do strike at any time of the day and night,” Fenaughty says.

“That means our seismic measuring systems have to be available without fail, around the clock.”

The SeisComP3 system has an advantage over previous systems in that it locates earthquakes more quickly (less than two minutes for nearby quakes), and it uses a three-dimensional model of the earth’s crust under New Zealand instead of the previous one-dimensional one.

This increases the speed and accuracy with which GeoNet can pinpoint the epicentre of an earthquake and assess its impact, Fenaughty says.

GeoNet started using the Web Drive service in December last year, but it is officially still in public beta mode, running in parallel with the in-house systems.

Even after the load is taken on by Web Drive completely, the Lower Hutt system will be kept running to offer extra security, Fenaughty says.

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