Despite the fact that 95 percent of companies experienced an unplanned data center outage in the past two years, most identify inadequate practices and investments as factors keeping them from reducing or responding to those outages appropriately. Those were among the findings of a new Ponemon Institute survey of U.S.-based data center professionals. Emerson Network Power, a business of Emerson (NYSE: EMR) and the global leader in enabling Business-Critical Continuity, sponsored the survey and today released a report on the results.

The report analyzes survey responses from more than 450 U.S.-based professionals involved in data center operations and focused on the root causes and frequency of data center downtime. Respondents most frequently cited uninterruptible power supply (UPS) battery failure (65 percent), exceeding UPS capacity (53 percent), accidental emergency power off (EPO)/human error (51 percent) and UPS equipment failure (49 percent) as the causes of unplanned data center outages.

The results indicate that while nearly all of the respondents experienced both primary utility power loss and unplanned data center outages, a lack of resources kept them from reducing or responding to outages as they would have liked. Sixty-five percent of respondents are from organizations whose business model is dependent upon the data center to generate revenue and conduct ecommerce, and 51 percent believe every application in the data center is mission critical. However, 59 percent of respondents say the risk of an unplanned outage has increased as a result of cost constraints inside the data center, 57 percent believe all or most of the unplanned outages could have been prevented, and less than half (42 percent) believe senior management fully supports their efforts to prevent and manage unplanned outages. Additionally, only 37 percent agree there are ample resources to bring their data center up and running if there is an unplanned outage and only 32 percent agree they utilize all best practices in data center design and redundancy to maximize availability.

“As computing demands and energy costs continue to rise amidst shrinking IT budgets, companies are seeking tactics – like cutting energy consumption – to cut costs inside the data center. This has led to an increased risk of unplanned downtime, with companies not fully realizing the impact these outages have on their operations,” said Peter Panfil, vice president and general manager, Emerson Network Power’s AC Power business in North America. “High-profile data center outages have proven that even momentary downtime can result not only in lost revenue in terms of operational time and out-of-pocket costs to repair damaged equipment, but also reputation damage that may threaten existing and future business opportunities.”

Regarding the frequency of outages, respondents experienced 2.5 complete data center outages over the past two years. Partial data center outages, or those limited to certain racks, occurred 6.8 times in the same timeframe. The estimated number of device-level outages, or those limited to individual servers, was the highest at 11.3.

The survey and report also point to a difference in perception between senior-level and rank-and-file respondents regarding data center outages. Sixty percent of senior-level respondents feel senior management fully supports efforts to prevent and manage unplanned outages, compared to 40 percent of supervisor-level employees and below. Senior-level and rank-and-file respondents also disagreed regarding how frequently their facilities experienced downtime, with 56 percent of the senior-level respondents agreeing that unplanned outages do not happen frequently, while just 45 percent of rank-and-file respondents agreed to the same statement.

“When you consider that downtime can potentially cost data centers thousands of dollars per minute, our survey shows a serious disconnect between senior-level employees and those in the data center trenches,” said Larry Ponemon, Ph.D., chairman and founder, the Ponemon Institute. “This sets up a challenge for data center management to justify to senior leadership the need to implement data center systems and best practices that increase availability and ensure the functioning of mission-critical applications. It’s imperative that these two groups be on the same page in terms of the severity of the problem and potential solutions.”

The first in a two-part series, full details of this survey and report are available online. The final report, timed for release in fall 2010, will conclude with detailed information on quantifying the cost of downtime in the data center.