Almost on a perpetual basis, people are exposed to ransomware, natural disasters, and outages that affect their businesses and daily lives. Over the past year, nearly everyone experienced this in a very personal way with COVID-19. Some enterprises are better prepared than others — the ones that realize the core question is not “If? but “When?”
The answer lies somewhere under the general heading of resiliency. Scientists have found vaccines for viruses and society will bounce back from natural disasters. There may even be a cure for ransomware someday. Today, the best bet is shore up disaster preparedness/recovery plans as well as the critical infrastructure to mitigate these threats.
Avoiding and Managing Outages
Resiliency starts with avoiding and managing outages — and protecting data centers and enterprises from having them in the first place. Since data centers are enabling mission critical enterprises, resiliency is a key concern, as the industry seeks to avoid outages relating to applications and systems that enable operations 7x24. All applications and systems rely on infrastructure and communications to make this happen. But, the best place to start is with the business stakeholders — what do they deem as mission critical?
A recent example took place in February, when a major blizzard and cold weather affected millions of Texans with power outages and water shortages. Dallas and Houston came to a standstill.
However, facilities in the region reported no outages or data loss. Some went to generator mode briefly, but the battery systems were in place to switch over from the grid to generator. The UPS/cooling systems remained intact at those centers as well.
After the blizzard, passable roadways remained a concern. In reaction, some data centers equipped all Texas facilities with sufficient food and water supply and provided nearby hotel accommodations for on-site staff. Texas data centers saw no interruption in fuel delivery while monitoring use in real time, diverting deliveries based on need, and sometimes sourcing backup fuel from out-of-state providers.
But, all of this didn’t happen by accident. Data centers in the region had made the right investments in resources ahead of time and it paid off.
Avoiding outages can be a daunting task, and we will hear many different opinions, but think of this endeavor like building a house. Before you start picking out furniture and what color you are going to paint it, you should consider the foundation. In IT, that foundation is the data center itself. It’s a fallacy that all data centers are the same. Decide what data center provider can support the uptime you are promising before you start buying servers and storage.
You’ll also need to make decisions about where those data centers should be located before you decide to buy software licenses — because you’ll want to ensure that you have not only local backup strategies but also replication and failover strategies in place that likely need to be geographically separate to protect against widespread outages. If you are resilient locally and geographically (and have a plan to go along with maintaining your infrastructure, applications, data, and user connectivity), you’ll be in a much better position to manage outages — because if you have a solid infrastructure foundation, it will be a lot easier when disaster strikes.
Process, Procedure, and Planning
If this is not your area of expertise, hire someone who can help you refine the details, test the plan, and automate the execution. Some infrastructure providers can help carry a majority of this burden, so you don’t have to start from scratch. These infrastructure providers can also provide documentation on an annual basis, so you only have to do a small piece of it to remain resilient, compliant, and secure.
Although redundancy is a big part of how you avoid outages, redundancy in IT terms mainly refers to the infrastructure components that run the business. For example, avoiding and managing outages requires some level of a human component. It’s the redundant infrastructure that enables applications to be “always available,” so you can serve your users and customers.
Fortunately, this is the relatively easy part of the equation. Redundant power, cooling, routers, firewalls, switches, virtualization, replication/failover, backup, archival, storage area networks, cloud drives, shared drives, and a number of other technologies are widely available to serve up applications and data to your users. The trick is choosing the options that give you the best choices for what you need now and for the future, so you don’t have to switch horses mid-stream. Time is your enemy, and technology changes so fast that you may want to look at renting rather than owning. The data center industry calls this the cloud, but there are many shapes and sizes, so be sure to choose carefully.
If you do choose to purchase your own infrastructure hardware and software, you should choose a data center that will accommodate your needs for power and cooling as well as the other amenities your staff will need. As mentioned earlier, you are better off building your new home on a solid foundation, and it’s much easier to make it all function if it’s plumbed for the expansion of your growing family.
Resiliency is the ability of a system or organization to respond to or recover readily from a crisis or disruptive process. The data center industry looks at resiliency through three equally important lenses: avoiding and managing outages, planning, and setting up redundant systems. Observing mission critical operations through those lenses is essential for the success of an enterprise.