Shaky Research: Yahoo Labs Contributes to New Study on Servers and Seismic Activity

Jul 31, 2014

By Don McGillen Have you ever wondered what happens to computer servers if you shake them really hard? The loss of functionality of data and telecommunication centers could have a disastrous impact on emergency operations and in the ability of communities to respond and recover when an earthquake hits. That’s why Howard University Associate Professor Claudia Marin-Artieda thinks about it all the time. In fact Dr. Marin-Artieda, who works in Howard’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, received a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award to study seismic protection systems for equipment and components in multi-story facilities that include data centers and computer-based communication centers. And now we’re helping her find out the answer to that question. Our Academic Relations (AR) team has been working hard to develop a strong and rich relationship with Howard University. Of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Howard is arguably the most elite in Computer Science, and the only HBCU to offer a PhD in the subject. Over the past year our AR team – along with Yahoo colleagues in our Washington, D.C. office – has partnered with Howard on a number of exciting initiatives, including recently hosting 25 young future leaders from various African nations as part of the Obama administration’s Young African Leaders Initiative. As part of another program called Yahoo Servers to Academic Researchers (YSTAR), we donated 125 servers from our data centers to Howard last fall. The gift is enabling education initiatives never before possible at the university, and is spurring research with partnering institutions like the State University of New York at Buffalo through the Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation (NEES) sponsorship.

YSTAR donation to Howard University

It is at the University at Buffalo that full-scale laboratory tests are currently being conducted on a frame and 40 servers donated by Yahoo. The seismic performance of the Yahoo frame will be tested on its own and supported on seismic isolated platforms under three-directional earthquake shaking. Dr. Marin-Artieda says, “The studies will provide valuable information regarding the validation of seismic solutions to achieve a desired protection level in essential facilities that are currently lacking. These studies are relevant since they will provide data on 1) deformation levels under severe earthquake shaking that are imposed to equipment-systems in essential facilities to achieve functionality requirements, 2) experimental data on systems characterization that is currently lacking, 3) validation of seismic solutions to achieve a desired protection level, etc.”

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Left: NEES facility and shake tables, Right: Yahoo-donated servers and frame
Marin adds that, “Implementing the seismic protective options emerging from this research will reduce the vulnerabilities during and after an earthquake of data centers and telecommunication centers. The research is directly addressing critical needs of the earthquake engineering community by validating high-performance options to protect equipment and components of essential facilities.” At Yahoo Labs, through the engagement of our Academic Relations team, we are thrilled to support such crucial research with such high-stakes, real-world impact. And since our headquarters is in one of the world’s most earthquake-prone locations, this study holds a special place in our heart! For more on Dr. Claudia Marin-Artieda’s work, please see