Twitter’s data center knocked out by extreme heat in California
Extreme heat that exhausted California’s overworked electric grid on Labor Day had knocked out one of Twitter’s main data centers in Sacramento, according to a report.
While Twitter avoided a shutdown on Sept. 5 by leaning on its other data centers in Portland, Ore., and Atlanta during the outage to keep its systems running, a company executive warned that if another center were lost, some users would have been unable to access the social media platform, according to an internal memo obtained by CNN.
Temperatures in Sacramento on Labor Day broke a daily record of 114 degrees, punching thermometers up to 116 by the afternoon.
To power their online services to users, tech companies such as Twitter, Google, or Meta lean on data centers that can demand heavy loads of power and often generate large amounts of heat, requiring cooling systems to keep things running. As climate change continues to heat the planet, Twitter’s outage underscores how such extreme weather impacts the online systems that billions of people rely on daily.
To address the strain of heat on such online infrastructure, some U.S.-based companies have taken their data centers to countries with cooler climates, such as Google, which built a data center in Finland.
A record-breaking heat wave that scorched the United Kingdom in July knocked out Google Cloud data centers, as well as Oracle’s cloud-based system, which are both based in London. Those outages left customers unable to access the online services for nearly an entire day.
A Twitter spokesperson told The Times on Monday that there have been no disruptions to people’s abilities to access or use its application, but declined to answer questions about the outage highlighted in the CNN report.
“On September 5th, Twitter experienced the loss of its Sacramento (SMF) datacenter region due to extreme weather. The unprecedented event resulted in the total shutdown of physical equipment in SMF,” wrote Carrie Fernandez, the company’s vice president of engineering, this past Friday in an internal message to Twitter engineers, CNN reported.
“If we lose one of those remaining datacenters, we may not be able to serve traffic to all Twitter’s users,” Fernandez warned.
Although major tech companies have multiple data centers so that if one center fails, another can carry on its service, Twitter’s former security chief, Peiter Zatko, who was fired this year, warned in a whistleblower complaint of the fragility of the company’s data centers where “even minor overlapping data center failure,” can raise “the risk of a brief outage to that of a catastrophic and existential risk for Twitter’s survival.”
Such overlapping outages “would likely result in the service going offline for weeks, months, or permanently,” the complaint said.
Zeitko was expected to address the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.