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Three Ways to Mitigate Data Center Disruptions with Maintenance Flexibility

On an early evening across the United States, thousands of households attempt to use a major airline’s Web-based booking system to schedule flights. Time and time again, the customers receive a message that the transaction is unable to be completed. The reason? All online booking capabilities have been frozen. The result for the airline? Revenue has melted away.
 
The airline questions its outsourced data center facility: Why? How? The answer is not a business-friendly one: A forewarned electrical storm caused a company-wide service outage at exactly the same time as the airline’s scheduled maintenance. If only the maintenance had been postponed until there was a forecast for calmer skies. Michael Lahoud discusses the way Stream Data Centers works to mitigate risk with outsourced data systems to ensure reliability. 
 
In the formative years of data center outsourcing, service outages were a big concern. Over the past two decades, the industry has continuously improved mission-critical IT performance, and many providers now employ redundant systems—dual water supplies for cooling equipment, back-up electrical feeds, and other safeguards—to ensure maximum uptimes, even under extreme conditions.
 
“We’re well past fidelity issues as a major concern,” explains Todd Hintze, managing partner of Everest Group, a consulting firm that advises clients on outsourcing relationships. Yet enterprises still need to mitigate the chance of disruptions from scheduled maintenance.
 
1. Plan for business continuity
Rare occurrences beyond a provider’s control, such as the accidental cutting of an electrical conduit during a street reconstruction, or the reality of hurricanes, floods and other natural acts, which can all potentially cause a service disruption.
 
Planning for business continuity can help prevent that. Disruptions involving functions such as financial trading, airline booking, and others dealing with heavy data volumes could result in substantial financial losses for the outsourcing client and damage reputations.
 
That’s why most large organizations house mission-critical data systems in at least two geographically dispersed locations so that if one site fails, the other takes over immediately.
 
Although mirroring crucial data systems in two dispersed locations is a sound strategy, there are times when even this arrangement is prone to vulnerabilities. Every data center has to perform scheduled maintenance at regular intervals. These routine events usually cause little concern. “Many maintenance activities, such as dumping cache, are not going to cause an outage,” Hintze points out. But some maintenance functions do require systems to temporarily go offline, and these events are chinks in the armor. 
 
2. Outsource data systems carefully
Anytime a crucial system goes offline—even if it is mirrored at another location—there is potential for a natural calamity or human-caused incident to result in a nightmare scenario. What if, say, a severe storm causes an outage at the mirrored site when the other site is offline for maintenance? This worst-case outcome makes some executives think twice about outsourcing critical data systems. “The fear is that I don’t get the control and the associated outage is out of my control,” Hintze says.
 
Data center outsourcers that serve many clients under one roof have limited flexibility in scheduling maintenance activities. The more clients they have, the more difficult it is to arrange these events at the most convenient times for every client. Clients may have little choice over when maintenance is performed.
 
This can be disconcerting if the scheduled maintenance occurs during a seasonal spike in a client’s needs, Hintze says. If it occurs right after a company’s Super Bowl commercial airs and thousands of potential new consumers visit the company’s website only to encounter error messages, the potential loss of new business is great. Or, if financial systems go down during monthly, quarterly, or yearly closings, you’ve got a major headache.
 
3. Postpone maintenance if needed
An outsourcing provider that serves no more than three clients under one roof has plenty of flexibility to schedule maintenance at the best times for all clients. This is the way Stream Data Centers operates. It’s much easier for Stream to arrange maintenance tasks during times when a rare, catastrophic event leading to a service outage would do the least harm.
 
What’s more, if for example, a major hurricane was forecast for an area housing your mirrored data center, Stream can easily postpone the maintenance until after the megastorm runs its course.
 
Fewer clients lead to greater flexibility and ability to mitigate risk. And that means executives can have greater peace of mind that their systems remain protected and productive.
 
Reclaim your peace of mind about reducing service disruptions. Tour Stream’s fully commissioned Private Data Center model to learn more or watch the video tour.

Planning for Business Continuity


Business continuity planning is a key focus for corporate IT leaders.  While corporate data centers are one piece of a well-designed recovery plan, they often do not receive enough focus.  As more corporations embrace outsourcing data center operations as part of a business continuity plan, certain factors should be kept in mind.

LOCATION

The geographical location of corporate data centers is an obvious choice when designing a business continuity plan.  Typical focus is on distance between data center locations, which is a good practice dictated by factors such as corporate risk tolerance and regulatory compliance.  An additional locational attribute that should be considered is ease of site access.  Specific examples include:
  • Proximity to major airport to allow quick access from corporate offices
  • Multiple major roadways allowing for alternate routes to the site
  • Metro areas containing qualified third-party service providers to help support the recovery process.

These factors help to ensure that facilities used during a disaster event can be quickly and easily accessed by critical personnel. Additionally, thoughtful site selection in the data center development process ensures security and minimizes risk, two important factors in business continuity planning. Consider facility locations with no proximity to rail, flight paths or industrial uses, strict zoning, low seismic activity and access to robust power and fiber infrastructure.

DEDICATED OFFICE SPACE
Dedicated business continuity space within a data center provides additional protection. Plug-and-play facilities allow IT staff and call center employees to immediately deploy operations and provide ongoing services to customer and clients. Data centers that include dedicated office space and conference room facilities are designed to house IT staff, call center employees and additional team members during both short- and long-term crises. 
While many colocation providers have usable office space on site, it is often shared among multiple users and a “first come, first serve” configuration.  Controlling your own office space on site could be a critical component to a successful execution of a business continuity plan.


DATA CENTER'S INTERNAL BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN
How well a data center facility is prepared to deal with a disaster is critical to your recovery plan’s success.  It is very important to question colocation providers you are considering.  While every credible operator has a well-designed facility, knowing its strengths and weakness will help end users better prepare.  Below are a handful of questions to ask that will act as a simple test of facilities business continuity planning:

  • What critical systems do you self-perform service on?
  • What is your guaranteed emergency response time for critical system repairs not self-performed?
  • Are critical spare parts inventories kept on site or in an accessible centralized depot?
  • Do you have provisions for emergency implementation of generators or chillers?
  • Are critical systems such as generators supported by a common shared backup or is your infrastructure completely self-sufficient?
  • What plans are in place for emergency fuel delivery?  Most facilities claim to have priority delivery services, but in the event of a major emergency the only guarantee is ample on-site fuel either through storage or contracted fuel truck placement.
In our opinion, the data center provider you select to support business continuity plans should be treated as an integral part of the process and a long-term partner.  Ask these difficult questions and expect concrete answers.

Take a tour of Stream’s fully-commissioned Private Data Center model to learn more.

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Texas Data Center Demand

As most everyone has noticed by now, the Texas data center market remains one of the most active in the country.  In response to growing demand, our team is currently developing Private Data Centers in Dallas and Houston aimed for corporate users.

The reasons for this are numerous, but there are three main factors driving the market.

The Right Population

Most companies like to have data centers where they have people to support IT functionality.  Texas has a very robust supply of IT professionals.  In addition to support personnel, data centers are often located near the customer base to which they provide services.  Whether they are internal customers or external customers (think cloud services, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), Texas has the right mix of users.  Based on 2012 data, the state has more than 26 million people.  Texas also serves as home to more than 50 of the Fortune 500 companies.  Combine these two and you can quickly understand why there is such a high demand for data center space.

Economic Factors

Unlike the majority of the country, Texas’s economy has been growing over the last decade thanks in large part to low taxes and low cost of living (more information on specifics can be found here).  What this ultimately means is more corporate growth in the form of existing company expansion and, more importantly to the rapid need for data center space, a large amount of companies relocating to Texas.  In 2010, Texas ranked in the top ten for corporate relocations with more than 7,000 new businesses moving to the state, according to Site Selection Magazine.  Robust job creation, a thriving O&G industry and a business-friendly environment all point to the trend continuing.

Prime Location

As most people familiar with the data center industry know, location plays a major role in data center site selection.  At a macro level, being centrally located, away from major physical threats and near dense population centers are key drivers in regional selection criteria.  In Texas, a debate exists around physical threats, specifically tornados and hurricanes.  Both of these can be mitigated with proper design and planning at the building and operations level.  Drilling in to micro level drivers, most cities within Texas are very easy to work with from a planning and development perspective.  This business-friendly attitude shows itself in the form of aggressive incentives from local governments.

As you can tell, there are good reasons why data centers continue to pop up across Texas.  Looking for a data center in the area?  Learn more about what makes our product different by downloading our brochures below.

Stream Private Data Center - The Woodlands / Houston Market

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DOWNLOAD A BROCHURE

 

Stream Private Data Center - Richardson II / Dallas Market

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DOWNLOAD A BROCHURE

Insights from Stream Data Centers Launching Fall 2012

As the data center industry continues to evolve, Stream Data Centers is commited to providing our clients with the most up-to-date solutions available.

Launching in Fall 2012, our Insights blog will deliver news, best practices and information aimed to help corporate users navigate the data center industry.

 

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