Outsourced Data Centers: One Overall Concern

Have you ever gone home on a nice sunny day and noticed your clocks are blinking? Have you ever been online only to realize that your connection has gone down? Both are frustrating because we are paying for a service which has experienced an interruption. In the residential space, our electricity provider gives us no service level agreement. Likewise, our network service providers do not provide service level agreements for our internet, TV, landline or wireless service.  When my cable service goes down, I have to locate a customer service number and then wait 30 minutes or longer to get someone on the line. Then they make me feel like an idiot asking me questions like, “Is the power connected to the router? or Have you re-powered the router?”

To ensure higher availability in the residential market, it is incumbent upon us as consumers to come up with our own methods of keeping the power on or keeping the internet light lit on our routers. At home, we could add a generator to our electrical system to kick on following a power outage. We could also add a secondary internet service to provide service when the primary service fails. Both are costly solutions. As a consumer, would you be willing to pay a little extra each month for a guarantee in those services?

When a company evaluates a third party corporate data center for colocation or disaster recovery, the price of services is usually a concern. However, it is not the main concern. Most IT executives I speak with have application availability as their main concern. Do they trust that the data center operator will keep their systems and applications running at all times? That has always been, and will continue to be, the main concern. While one corporate data center operator may provide them with a lower price for monthly service, will that operator be the most highly available data center operator for that company’s applications?

Power and connectivity are essential to application availability in data centers. You can have BGP routing, redundant connectivity routes into the data center, and multiple providers for connectivity. But, if you experience a power blip or outage, none of that makes any difference. Conversely, your data center operator could have the best, redundant power infrastructure available. However, an outage with your network service provider will keep you from connecting to those services and applications that are still on.

You might say that the cloud would insulate your company from these concerns. But we all know that the cloud is nothing more than your data residing on someone else’s infrastructure located elsewhere. The same power and connectivity issues apply. If the connection to your cloud provider goes down, so does your ability to access that information. So, how do companies find a reliable data center operator to keep their applications highly available?

  1. Don’t make price your number one factor. An outage can cost some companies millions of dollars per minute. Saving a few dollars each month won’t ever make up for the cost of a major outage. The old adage applies: “You get what you pay for.”
  2. Ask to see the “back of house” infrastructure that will support your environment. Take a look at the generators. Are they protected with a fence or a wall? Are the electrical lineups designed in an N+1 or 2N configuration? How is each data center providing cooling to protect your equipment? What are the maintenance schedules on each piece of the infrastructure?
  3. Evaluate the network service providers that provide service to that facility. Ask to see a diagram of how each provides service to the facility. More importantly, ask each of the connectivity providers how they would continue to provide connectivity in the event of an outage.
  4. Understand how power is provided to the data center. Is it a single utility feed split into A & B feeds on the data center floor? Is the data center fed by multiple utility feeds? What happens when one or more of the utility feeds becomes unavailable? How many times has the data center experienced a loss of power from a utility feed?

In summary, application uptime is the main concern for IT executives using a 3rd party corporate data center. Ask the right questions of those data center operators. Then ask those same questions to some of their customers to validate your findings. Bottom line: The most highly available data centers have invested in infrastructure and design.

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