Dutch multinational banking and financial services organisation, Ing, reported recently that a fire extinguisher test in one of its Romanian branches, had set off an unprecedented and disastrous chain of events, resulting in cash machines, online banking and its website going down for over ten hours on Saturday 10th September 2016.
The bank, which has over 48 million individual and institutional clients in over 40 countries, could not explain the situation to its customers as the outtage had affected the bank’s main communication systems as well.
Ironically, it was not the fire extinguisher’s gases that caused the problem, rather, the loud sound emitted by the inert gases released at over 130 decibels which destroyed dozens of hard drives, according to tech magazine Motherboard.
A Siemens report in 2015 warned of the risk of fatal damage to hard drives through sound wave vibrations which concluded:
• above 110dB, most hard disks would deliver a degraded performance
• above 130dB most disks would stop delivery data
• above 140dB, most disks would suffer permanent damage and there could also be other unpredictable faults
Whilst it may have been unprecedented for Ing, it is not unknown. In 2013, French media reported that accountancy software used by the French Government became temporarily ‘unavailable’ after a fire protection system was accidentally triggered at a data centre issuing a loud noise and causing an outage there. Whilst more locally, in Glasgow in December 2015, a fire suppression system triggered by an air conditioning unit was blamed for bringing Glasgow City Council to its knees for several days affecting council tax and benefits systems, disabling MS Outlook email services and the Cisco telephone switchboard system.
For any organisation therefore, there are some easy precautions to check and apply:
1. Review the physical security of your server systems and their environment.
2. Protect the full integrity of your data by scrutinising all your equipment
3. Ensure you have failover availability with full back up and replication systems in place to keep your business up and running.