The threat of a natural disaster looms large in the minds of data center providers around the world. Managing the power, cooling, and security demands of a data center is difficult enough even before taking threats such as hurricanes, earthquakes, or flooding into consideration. Maintaining data access in the event of a disaster can mean the difference between a company’s success or failure. About 70% of companies have experienced data loss due to accident or disaster; even more troubling, 60% of those companies go out of business within six months of losing data due to disaster.
It’s imperative, then, that every data center has a comprehensive plan for protecting data in the event of a natural disaster. While every effort should be made to maintain server uptime, data centers must consider the possibility that they won’t be able to deliver on that promise in a disaster situation. After all, even the most robust SLA won’t amount to much if the power fails and no one can physically access the data center to get critical systems running again.
In a word, everything. Here are just a few examples of natural disasters that left data centers reeling:
The very first step any data center should take to prepare for disaster is to perform a comprehensive risk assessment. This review will identify both the likelihood and expected consequences of potential disasters. Once these risks have been identified, the provider needs to create a step-by-step checklist detailing what actions need to be taken in the event of each specific disaster. All relevant staff and personnel should familiarize themselves with these plans and conduct drills on a regular basis to ensure everyone knows what to do in a disaster scenario.
Keeping the network up and running is a key consideration in addition to preserving customer data. Every moment of downtime carries with it real financial costs. Any good data center should already have extensive network redundancies incorporated into its computing infrastructure, but these backup plans need to be even more reliable in a disaster situation. Regular testing is essential to ensure that when power is disrupted and systems fail, customer data and critical operations are kept online and secure. Also, all relevant staff must be trained on what to do if the redundancy system doesn’t operate as designed. This normally involves critical manual intervention and personnel must be trained in a ‘hands on’ environment to gain the experience and understand of the process and system reaction to the manual transfers.
Data centers also need to consider how disasters will affect the infrastructure around them. When Hurricane Sandy struck New York City, for example, many backup generators failed because they ran out of fuel and could not be replenished due to the flooded city streets. Because physical access to the data center could be limited and remote access may not be possible, it’s vital to have automated backup systems in place to ensure that customers’ mission critical data and services are not lost or disrupted in the event of power failure.
If data is going to be backed up at another data center, that facility should be located far from the one being affected by a natural disaster. Data center providers with facilities spread across a wide geographic area are better able to ensure that a large scale natural disaster will not be able to take down all of their services.
As natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires become more frequent, data centers must take active measures to protect their facilities and, by extension, their customers. Although cloud services make it easier to back up essential assets and modern construction techniques can better protect equipment from physical danger, data centers still rely upon factors outside their control to keep up and running. Only by preparing to deal with a disruption to their everyday operations can they truly be ready for whatever disaster nature decides to throw at them.
Is your data center prepared?
Ross is a Regional Vice President, Operations at vXchnge and is responsible for managing all 14 data center locations. With more than 30 years of experience, Ross has managed data center construction, engineering, repair and maintenance, leading him to the emerging business of colocation.