Disasters can strike a data center at any time. Regardless of whether the cause is Mother Nature or human error, disasters can be costly and lead to long-term damage to a business. According to a survey conducted by Emerson Network Power, the typical data center in the United States experiences an average of two downtime events over the course of two years, and the costs of downtime for an average data center can easily surpass $1 million in less than two years’ time.

The survey also notes that vulnerabilities in a data center’s power and cooling infrastructure, as well as human error and accidental provider events, collectively account for nearly three quarters of the root causes of downtime. With an average cost of more than $450,000 per incident, these costs come from business disruption, lost revenue, productivity, reputation threats and a loss in opportunities.

Unfortunately, downtime is inevitable. It’s not a matter of if, but when. There are many best practices and procedures when it comes to mitigating the long-term effects of disaster. From the plan for power and backup to maintenance and communication, these best practices are very similar across the board.

So, how do you ensure that yours stands the test of the next threat?

People, planning and procedures.

People

According to Uptime Institute, 70% of data center outages are directly attributable to human error. A properly designed data center that has the necessary operations and maintenance programs can improve business performance and even optimize costs. A disaster recovery plan that is poorly organized and executed, however, will result in long-term downtime, increased costs and unforeseen delays in returning to “business as usual.”

The word expert is used loosely in the IT world—but in the data center environment, it is critical that an experienced, reliant team is assembled on the front lines when there is a potential downtime event. Expert technicians not only have proven disaster-recovery experience, but they illustrate a problem-solving attitude without passing the blame to outside vendors or network providers. A disaster-recovery expert does not rely on the performance of the IT infrastructure to support businesses—they know that the people behind the technology are really where performance comes to life. He or she is always thinking “What if?” and planning accordingly.

The expertise doesn’t end there. When it comes to an expert team, it is equally essential that the businesses supporting the data center offer their expertise and experience as well. From the network providers to the equipment manufacturers and energy engineers, it is crucial that there are no third-party contractors or outsourced maintenance teams. When a data center is threatened, a business should demand the people who have engineered the equipment to be on the job, not a hired contractor or other source. The most knowledgeable team is required to address the situation thoroughly in order to resume operations quickly and seamlessly.

A common cause of delay in addressing data center downtime is identifying the route of the issue. In all of its facilities, a data center provider should have a one-line diagram of the facility’s infrastructure so the entire team, as well as the businesses in the data center, have complete visibility into where the points of failure may originate and a plan to address them accordingly at the time of an event.

Round-the-clock support of live experts for customer service, rather than outsourced call centers, is rapidly becoming an industry standard in data centers. Best-in-class data center service providers know that these experts should be intimately involved throughout the entire process as the business moves into the data center facility, not just when a problem arises. This involvement guarantees that the data center team is familiar with its customer’s mission-critical applications and can ensure business continuity in the event of a disaster.

Planning

The old adage “practice makes perfect” rings true when it comes to disaster recovery in data centers. A disaster-recovery plan should not be dusted off when a “disaster” occurs, but rather, it should undergo monthly and quarterly testing and planning so at the time of the event, the action plan is solid and the team is in “go” mode.

The most crucial part of the plan is, arguably, the power. Power and cooling are critical to the performance of businesses in the data center. The most sophisticated power and cooling processes help businesses control costs and ensure optimal performance. But when a weather-related natural disaster takes out the power of a data center, businesses are crippled at the mercy of their data center’s generators, or worse—the power company.

Having a backup generator is the basic plan for most data centers, but the most advanced and innovative data centers will take this a few steps further. This way, businesses are not left crossing their fingers that their data center’s power is restored before the generator runs out.

First, the data center needs multiple generators that are tested monthly to measure cooling, temperature and fueling requirements. Testing allows the data center team to rely on their generators in the event that they are needed, and replace or repair generators before its too late.

The power plan for the generators is just as crucial as having working generators. Businesses should demand that their data centers not only have an ample fuel-pump package, but also two fuel pumps for additional redundancy. Having multiple diesel providers on hand during a disaster will help the data center remain “up and running” for days and even weeks.

Procedures

While there is overlap on procedures with the people and planning behind them, there are specific processes essential to protecting data centers in the event of a disaster.

A facility director is responsible for establishing methods and procedures for disaster recovery and performance of the data center. As such, it is that individual’s responsibility to constantly be on the front lines to ensure the facility is compliant and its teams are well trained. Additionally, it is imperative that this manager demand that certifications are renewed regularly to address the latest and greatest data center technologies. By establishing and maintaining standards and procedures and communicating them back to the businesses in the data center, the facility manager is able to have peace of mind that the team and facility are ready for the unknown.

Finally, in the event of downtime, it is not uncommon for data centers to offer business-continuity plans to its partners. Offering office space, connectivity and phone lines to its customers while their offices get back up and running helps reduce loss and, most importantly, secures the brand’s reputation with its customers.

As we enter the “heart” of hurricane season, the best disaster-recovery plan is only as good as the team, plan and procedures behind it. Even the most cutting-edge facilities and comprehensive disaster strategy can all fall apart without the right brainpower and aggressive team to back it up.

Leading article image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video

About the Author

data centerCharlie Browning is SVP Operations for vXchnge, where he is responsible for operations and site management.

Before joining vXchnge, Charlie was Senior Vice President of Operations at Switch & Data where he was responsible for operations and site management for the company’s colocation and PAIX data centers located throughout North America. Switch & Data’s customers consistently recognized site management and operations teams for their unparalleled support and expertise. Charlie contributes his extensive knowledge in business planning, sales management, and network management and surveillance in the telecommunications and information-service industry. Before joining Switch & Data, Charlie held executive telecom operations positions with companies including Unisys, Nynex, and TCSI Corporation.

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