In the wake of the recent natural disasters that devastated the United States and the world, T5 has written a four-part blog series sharing our perspective on what natural disasters and disaster recovery looks like for data centers. Part one of our four-part series can be found here, and part two can be found here.
‘Tis the Season. Hurricanes Harvey, Irma… then Jose and Maria. EF-3 Tornadoes touching down in New Orleans, and parts of Alabama and Tennessee. Every year, we’ll see significant weather events in the Southeast, this year, sure seems like Mother Nature has decided to kick it up a notch (or two)!
As Hurricane Irma hit the Southeast, we’ve seen an influx of people from Florida and other states come up and take cover in the city of Atlanta. Likewise, here at T5@Atlanta, we typically see a sizeable contingent of our customers bring their IT infrastructure and IT application teams to hunker down in our facility; staying close to the mission-critical applications they have hosted within our data center walls. Some of our customers bring one or two individuals; others bring their entire IT operations team. Regardless of the size of the group, our Critical Facilities data center team is happy and ready to receive them, often on short notice, and do everything they can to accommodate and assist them in every way possible.
Not only do we enjoy working with our customers when they are in the facility, but it also provides a fantastic opportunity to have more intimate conversations with their team members, than you typically would have over emails or phone calls.
Recently, because of Hurricane Irma, the dialogue I’ve had with customers has centered around their decision-making process when choosing a data center site. Some of the questions that sparked our conversations included:
- Why did you choose Atlanta as the site of your Disaster Recovery (D.R.) location?
- What other criteria were important to your team in the decision-making process in choosing the right provider?
- What types of questions did your team ask to help determine which providers best met your specific requirements? (over and beyond your typical RFP questions)
Below, I highlight four of the top items that many of our customers shared with me as key considerations in their evaluation of different data center sites:
Four Questions To Help Guide the Evaluation of a Data Center Site to Ensure Business Continuity:
1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Headquartered in cities located close to the coast, naturally one of the key considerations in choosing an ideal site focused on selecting a site that put them a safe distance away from the path of hurricanes, surface flooding, and other coastal weather-related events.
To this end, Atlanta fit the profile. Geographically located 250 miles from the Gulf of Mexico and 240 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, Atlanta is not directly impacted by Category 3-plus hurricanes and hasn’t been in over 100 years.
In addition, Atlanta is at low risk to seismic-related and other weather-related events. Fortunately, we don’t have any active fault lines in the area.
Lastly, it was also important for our customers to have easy access to their new data center site. As such, Atlanta also fits the profile for one of the world’s largest airlines, Delta Airlines, who calls Atlanta a home. In addition, Atlanta is serviced by one of the world’s busiest international airports, Hartsfield Jackson International airport, from which 80% of the U.S. market is accessible within a 2-hour direct flight (GA Dept. of Economic Development).
- HOW IS THE UTILITY POWER DELIVERED TO THE FACILITY?
Some of the customers I had a chance to connect with expressed to me that one of the key criteria in their decision-making process was gaining a detailed understanding of the end-to-end “power story” for each of the providers they were considering.
We’re not solely talking about generators, UPS battery line-ups, N+1 redundancy for each of the electrical data center components. Of course, each of these items are important and should be investigated further. Rather, our customers honed in on learning more about the source utility power coming into each of the facilities they were investigating.
To that end, some more discerning questions are:
- Are there multiple power feeds supporting the facility? If multiple, where are these power feeds coming from?
- Are each of those power feeds coming from the same power substation or supported by multiple geographically diverse substations?
- How many total substations serve the facility?
- How are the power feeds from each substation being delivered to the facility? Overhead and exposed through power poles? Or underground and protected via water-proof concrete-encased conduit?
3. WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MOTHER NATURE COMES KNOCKING AT MY SELECTED D.R. SITE?
I also learned from my conversations that an additional criterion important to our customers was understanding how their IT and data center assets were protected in the event severe weather hit their chosen data center site.
Though we don’t see hurricane-type winds as our neighbors on the coast do, we do experience severe weather from time to time. In fact, Hurricane Irma brought severe winds to our region and over a million customers lost power in the state of Georgia, many of them in the Metro-Atlanta area.
Therefore, our customers expressed that they were keenly interested in better understanding the answers to the following questions:
1. How is each data center facility built to withstand severe weather events?
2. How does each data center facility protect the same critical infrastructure (generators, cooling towers, etc…) that customers are relying on to guarantee the uptime of their mission-critical IT infrastructure?
After all, what good are generators and cooling towers if damaged by the effects of high-winds and flying debris?
3. Where are the generators and cooling towers located?
4. What surrounds and protects the generators and cooling towers in the outside yard? Is there a chain-link fence surrounding the property? Are there trees surrounding the property that could potentially be uprooted?
5. Is the data center purpose-built to withstand high winds or is it a retrofitted building?If it is retrofitted, is the roof reinforced and to what level? If the roof is reinforced, are the walls of the building also reinforced to the same standards?
6. If it is retrofitted, is the roof reinforced and to what level? If the roof is reinforced, are the walls of the building also reinforced to the same standards?
4. WITH WHOM DOES MY TEAM COLLABORATE WHEN NEEDED MOST?
The fourth, but certainly not last, item that our customers brought up to me as a key consideration in their decision-making process in selecting a colocation provider is who they were going to work with and how easily accessible that team would be in the time of need.
One of our customers explained that they had leveraged a very large data center in the past, one with hundreds of colocation and hosted customers sharing the same facility. Most times, there were no issues having access to data center resources and personnel; but in the event of a significant weather event, competition naturally occurred as all customers in the data center would need assistance or access to the same resources, at the same time. To adequately handle the large increase in requests for support, it was necessary for the provider to set up a “triage” to handle all requests. As a result, some customers received what they needed in a very short time frame; unfortunately, others had to wait until they were next in line.
Due to this past experience, it was important for them to select a provider where the risk of not having access to data center personnel or resources at “high-peak” times was minimized.
Some of the questions they asked during the evaluation process included:
- How many customers are hosted in the facility? Will we be one of ten customers? One of a hundred? Or one of hundreds?
- How available is the data center facility manager and his team? Do I have direct access to the data center team? Or do I work through a help desk representative prior to being engaged by a Critical Facilities Engineer working in the facility?
- In a typical month, how many hours of remote hands requests or other support requests are performed by the data center team for all customers in the facility?
With Irma now come and gone and many of our customers having returned to their home cities and states, our data center in Alpharetta has gone back to its relatively quiet work environment. My thoughts turn to a good family friend; everytime I have an opportunity to visit, he welcomes me when I visit with open arms, and says “Mi casa es tu casa!” Loosely translated this means “Welcome! My house is your home.”
Respectfully borrowing my friend’s welcome message…to all of our current and future customers, when Mother Nature gets dialed up again, our team at T5 also says “Mi casa es tu casa.” Safe travels and we welcome you the next time you are back at T5@Atlanta!
Written by James Kwon: firstname.lastname@example.org