Data centers are a key component of many companies’ business strategies. Managed service providers (MSPs) and cloud-based developers need the rich connectivity options that only a data center’s infrastructure can provide. But with so many data center facilities to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which ones are capable of providing superior service today, but also power the technological revolution of tomorrow. Before making any decisions, every potential customer should review a potential facility’s infrastructure to determine its long-term potential as an IT partner.
While most data centers are quick to claim their systems are fully redundant, the terminology has become so muddled in recent years that their actual backup capabilities may not be clear. For MSPs and other companies looking to deliver a variety of bundled services through a data center, it’s worth taking a closer look at the approaches a facility takes to redundancy.
The key differentiator is often whether a data center incorporates fault tolerance or high availability strategies. Fault tolerance is what most people think of when they hear the word “redundancy.” It incorporates two identical systems running in tandem on a completely separate circuit. When one system goes down, the backup system takes over without sacrificing uptime. This solution can be very expensive and complex to implement, so many facilities utilize high-availability systems. Rather than mirroring systems entirely, this approach uses clusters of servers with failover capabilities that restart applications the moment a primary server crashes. While cheaper to implement and less vulnerable to software problems, they do have more downtime lag.
Many data center floors were designed to accommodate lower-power densities than most of today’s servers provide. Over the last decade, however, vast improvements in servers have even changed the way facilities measure their power capacity. Wattage per square foot used to be the standard measurement, but today’s data centers measure power density at the server rack level. Ten years ago, 4-5 kW per rack was considered average, but that number is now closer to 15-20 kW per rack in high-performing facilities.
Unfortunately, as power increases, servers generate more heat and require more efficient cooling equipment. When looking at a data center, customers should consider whether or not the facility can make efficient use of its available power. Just because it claims to provide high-density server deployments doesn’t mean it can get the most out of them. Substandard or outdated cooling systems, for instance, could prevent those servers from running at peak potential. This could also result in equipment and software failures due to overheating, which will contribute to increased incidents of downtime.
Every investigation into a data center’s infrastructure should begin with a thorough examination of its service level agreement (SLA). This document provides details about the services a facility promises to deliver and stipulates penalties for the data center if it fails to comply. As legally binding documents, SLAs are critical for customers looking to protect their data and assets.
The most important part of an SLA is the level of service uptime is promises to deliver. Expressed as a percentage, the SLA’s uptime guarantee indicates how often its servers will be up and running. Modern, enterprise-level data centers should provide at the very least 99.99% uptime, with every additional “9” delivering a higher level of reliability. The SLA will also lay out various responsibilities the data center has with regards to technical support, transparency, and remuneration.
Providing services through a data center can sometimes be a challenging task. Implementing systems and building up networks within the data center environment takes planning and expertise that even experienced IT personnel may not possess. A facility that offers qualified technicians who can make migration and integration efforts work together smoothly helps customers focus more of their valuable resources on delivering services that benefit their business.
When problems do develop, having remote hands personnel on call 24x7x365 to address issues quickly reduces the negative impact of downtime. These technicians are already familiar with the particulars of the data center environment and can address maintenance issues and other emergencies more effectively than external IT teams. With a good remote hands team in place, service-based companies like MSPs can devote more of their IT resources into developing new offerings for their customers rather than troubleshooting.
Understanding what’s happening in a data center environment is absolutely crucial for any company that delivers services through that infrastructure. They need to be able to know how power and network performance are being affected by traffic in order to plan effectively and determine how to best deploy their assets. Data center infrastructure management (DCIM) software can help provide this information. Security is also a huge concern when it comes to visibility. Any company hoping to utilize a data center environment to build or bundle services needs to know what safeguards a facility has in place to protect against cyberattacks and data breaches.
A robust business intelligence platform can provide a comprehensive picture of every relevant detail about a data center’s infrastructure. If a facility makes it difficult to review their operations or is less than transparent regarding its policies, service providers and MSPs will have a hard time reassuring their own customers that their sensitive data and valuable assets are in safe hands.
Partnering with a data center is an important decision for any organization. By reviewing key aspects of the facility’s infrastructure, companies can predict whether or not it will be able to meet their needs and allow them to expand business opportunities in the future by providing a reliable IT environment for a range of services.
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