Seattle Forced to Shut Off City’s Data Center

What is it with data centers operated by cities in the state of Washington?

On Aug. 23, Mayor Mike McGinn of Seattle informed residents that the city would partially shut down its municipal data center for five days including the Labor Day weekend. As a result, city residents will be unable to pay bills, apply for business licenses, or take advantage of other online services.

In a Webcast press conference, McGinn isolated the issue as a failure in one of the electrical “buses” that supplies power to the data center. Because that piece of equipment began overheating, the city had to begin taking servers and applications offline to prevent overloading the system. The maintenance will cost the city $2.1 million of its maintenance budget.

A second power bus will remain operational, supplying enough electricity to power redundant systems for critical life and fire safety systems, including 911 services and fire dispatch. The city’s Web sites should also be up and running in some capacity. A full list of affected services can be found here.

“We’re asking for the public’s help—if there’s things to get done, that you need to get done, such as renewing your bills online, paying your business licenses, taking care of pet license renewal—if you can get them done before the weekend, then take the weekend off,” McGinn said.

He added that, while it was possible the system would suffer “glitches” as administrators restored services, the city’s online departments expected to be completely back in business by Wednesday.

The data center in question is perched on the 26th floor of the Seattle Metro Tower, which the mayor acknowledged “is not the most reliable way to run our data center.” His proposed budget for 2013 apparently includes funding for data-center alternatives with more capacity, redundancy, and resiliency.

Fred Podesta, director of city’s department of finance and administrative services, explained that services would be turned off on Aug. 31 and remain offline until Sept. 4. “Any city employee that uses a computer to look up an account, to make bill payments and things like that will not have all the tools they normally have,” he said. “For those five days, I think we’ll go back in time a few years, where the city is doing more things with manual processes.”

Maybe Seattle should talk to its sister city, Olympia, about sharing some of its resources. (Fun fact: Olympia is also the state capital.) Earlier this month, city officials confessed that their data center had been overbuilt to the tune of perhaps 10 times what the state actually needed. Olympia now wants to sell off the unused space.


Image: VanHart/