Rolling power outages hit Silicon Valley

The rolling power outage halting the Sun Microsystems' presentation in a San Francisco hotel for about 10 minutes last week reflects the potential for California's power problems to affect business in the information economy's capital city.

          Network administrators can try to compensate for about a million things going wrong during a web-cast presentation, but when Pacific Gas and Electric turns off the power in the auditorium, there's only so much to be done except groan, maybe chuckle a little, and wait.

          The rolling power outage halting the Sun Microsystems' presentation in a San Francisco hotel for about 10 minutes last Wednesday reflects the potential for California's power problems to affect business in the information economy's capital city.

          Governor Gray Davis declared a stage three state of emergency at 1.45am Wednesday, prompting the California Independent System Operator -- the state's power management agency -- to order rotating customer outages beginning that afternoon. The blackouts affected the entire Northern part of the state, impacting most directly 221,000 customers in the San Francisco Bay Area, he says. Rolling blackouts began around 11.50am PST and ended around 2.30pm., he says.

          The highest probability time for outages occur between 6am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm he says. Internet companies will not be given special dispensations or warnings if blackouts are ordered again. "The only customers that are spared are emergency services, large acute hospitals, and public transportation," says Jonathan Franks, a spokesman for PG&E. Average outages lasted 90 minutes.

          Some companies are using the power outages as a selling point for their products and services.

          Sunnyvale, California-based IT infrastructure service company Loudcloud announced that corporations outsourcing their internet operations to Loudcloud won't be affected by the rolling blackouts. As part of its disaster recovery plan, Loudcloud's network operations centre is equipped with a backup battery and a diesel generator.

          Many of the larger power-dependant companies have invested in back-up generators, Franks says.

          Sun Microsystems president Ed Zander used the blackout to tout the low power consumption of his company's servers, equating the power use to that of a lightbulb. "We have to drive power consumption down to the lowest level we can," he says.

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