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All stakeholders blamed for Kakao server shutdown

Dec. 6, 2022 - 15:54 By Lee Yoon-seo
Minister of Science and ICT Lee Jong-ho speaks during briefing in Seoul, Tuesday. (Yonhap)

The Ministry of Science and ICT on Tuesday released the results of its investigation into the nation's worst-ever server shutdown in October, calling for all stakeholders -- SK C&C, Kakao and Naver -- to come up with emergency response system.

On Oct. 15, a fire broke out in the battery room on the third basement floor of the SK C&C Pangyo Data Center at Pangyo, Gyeonggi Province.

The fire at the data center -- which hosts South Korean online platform giants' data servers -- caused a national meltdown as the nation's most popular internet services such as KakaoTalk experienced record-breaking server outages that lasted longer than 11 hours.

The fire was completely subdued at 11:45 p.m. on the same day, and the data center sequentially resumed operations as power was supplied to the data center.

During the briefing analyzing the accident, the ministry pinpointed lithium-ion batteries not being physically separated from the Uninterruptible Power Supply at the data center as the main cause of the slow recovery.

UPS refers to the electrical apparatus that provides emergency power to a load when the input power source fails.

According to the ministry, the lithium-ion batteries were resistant to gas fire extinguishers, therefore heating the UPS. This resulted in the center’s operations being suspended and a power cut-off.

Moreover, the ministry added that blocking measures had not been taken because the system at the data center failed to identify specific areas to spray water on.

As for the delayed recovery for Kakao services, the ministry pointed out that most core functions such as KakaoTalk and Daum had been unnecessarily concentrated at one data center.

In particular, core functions such as Kakao's verification feature -- which works as a basis for the operation of various Kakao services -- had been solely controlled at the Pangyo data center -- therefore causing a wide impact on the overall service.

In response, the ministry called for an establishment of a plan to diversify the services' core functions to other data centers, considering their importance, for South Korean online platforms.

It also stressed that scenarios for different types of emergencies should be reviewed by the companies, and that simulation training for fire at data centers should be carried out.

For data centers, the ministry underscored the need to strengthen various fire detection systems and acquisition of fire extinguishing facilities in case lithium-ion batteries catch on fire.

It also called for data centers to make sure battery and other electrical facilities were separated, and that the power lines located in the battery room were rearranged to ensure structural stability in case of emergencies.

"As the failure of data centers and digital services have a profound impact on the economy and society as a whole, operators who provided the cause of the accident will be able to restore public trust in digital services by strictly recognizing the causes of the accident and doing their best to prevent future damage," said Lee Jong-ho, Minister of Science and ICT.

"Learning from this accident, the government will review the disaster response system for major digital services from the beginning and establish a solid digital crisis management system that can provide consistent digital services with inspections and improvements in screening systems," Lee added.

The ministry plans to establish a comprehensive plan to secure digital service stability during the first quarter of 2023.

The plan will reflect the plans submitted by SK C&C, Naver and Kakao and the opinions of experts and business operators to strengthen the country's disaster management system.