From business to education to our personal lives, nearly every function in the modern world relies on technology and internet connectivity to power the ways we work, learn, and live. Such compute creates large volumes of data that cannot arrive at its endpoint without passing through data centers that dot the globe worldwide. To meet these demands, data centers are constantly evolving to provide new and improved customer value, not just from their services but also from their ability to weather events, like hurricanes or snowstorms.
This consideration grows increasingly more important as environmental agencies predict that changing weather patterns are not only growing more intense but more frequent. This uptick in severe weather and storm conditions indicates that data center businesses must rely on smooth operations in order to adapt and ensure the data center can process data and serve customers even under extreme weather conditions. The consequences of a downtime event are severe for both data center operators and their customers. One in six respondents to an Uptime Institute intelligence survey report said data outages from weather events cost more than $1 million on average.
Maintaining operations during inclement weather is crucial during any event and being prepared for emergencies is paramount. Some providers are more fully equipped to handle natural disasters than others, with redundancies in place across the power and backup equipment, cooling, and network, so their customers do not experience downtime in case of a catastrophic event at one site.
Data Centers Are Essential
Data centers provide tremendous value to customers in both normal conditions and during extreme weather or disaster events. During extreme conditions, data centers enable customers to access core data and applications needed to maintain business continuity. Furthermore, data centers are even more critical to the emergency response efforts in regions suffering from extreme events due to their critical infrastructure designation. By working with a reliable data center provider, customers can rest assured that their mission critical applications and data will be available when they need them, regardless of what event may be taking place.
Data center operators take their commitments very seriously because the businesses that rely on them for operational continuity would be at serious risk if the data center was offline, even briefly. The reliance has grown even greater in recent years. In the fourth quarter of 2021, 41% of employees continued to work from home exclusively, which makes them reliant on things like cloud infrastructure and distributed data to get their jobs done. For example, millions were left without power in Texas when Storm Uri brought brutal cold and ice to the state, and some data centers suffered outages. As a result of the weather event, municipal services greatly suffered downtime, and even services from T-Mobile and AT&T took a hit. This highlighted the essential need for data centers to establish comprehensive plans to avoid these challenges and for customers to choose carefully and evaluate track records when selecting a data center provider.
The Right Data Center Provider
When seeking a data center provider, customers should always consider the level of redundancy in place. This is important because it ensures the business will not experience any interruption or downtime in any type of event. Providers with the right level of redundancy in place can keep their customers' data secure and available, even when the weather takes a turn for the worse because the data center can withstand multiple failures without interruption or downtime. Still, if customers are looking to avoid the possibility of downtime, they should choose providers that have a proven operational track record that showcases their operational acuity and prevention strategies. Other important factors for customers to consider when choosing a provider include:
- Holistic and regular maintenance to all data center systems, including active protocols for updating all electrical, mechanical, cooling, control infrastructure, and ancillary installations, such as fire and fuel replacement systems).
- Standard operating procedures (SOPs) and methods of procedure (MOPs) for normal and emergency operations should be outlined with specific detail, sequences, and added clarity to eliminate human error.
- Qualified internal teams that take ownership of reviewing and updating procedures with regular training.
- Adherence to stringent compliance protocols.
- Increased level of physical security.
- Confirmed redundancies for power, cooling, and network services.
- Examination of customer communication strategies both for day-to-day business and disaster event protocols to ensure transparency and high-touch interactions.
Data center teams must have well-tested management plans for daily operations and response outlines for severe events. Regular execution and detailed planning reduces exposure to human error and ensures the accuracy and practicality of all procedures that are essentially all in place to safeguard customer equipment and deliver continuous availability.
After reviewing the facility’s robustness and operational management, it is critical when looking for an ideal data center or colocation provider, to look for one with protective service level agreements (SLAs).
Many large companies have in-house data centers but not all are reliable enough to be considered 100% uptime facilities. So, these companies turn to colocation and data center providers for dedicated server hosting services that are geographically dispersed to create a defense against disaster. A thorough examination of the SLAs can reveal several benefits. SLAs align the provider’s interests with the customer to deliver the required performance. Customers can also receive financial credit if the service provider fails to meet their agreed-upon availability target. Additionally, best-in-class providers will include trends in their SLAa or make performance history available to the public.
Preparing for Stormy Weather
The costs of downtime can be staggering. Beyond the loss of services and availability, natural disasters can also cause a lot of damage to the physical infrastructure and data systems that keep businesses running. Many organizations plan for continuity by employing disaster recovery plans to ensure continued operation even in the face of a natural disaster. However, not all data centers supporting IT equipment are created equal when it comes to disaster preparedness and building design quality. Some providers are simply better equipped than others to handle natural disasters.
The most effective data center providers excel at preventing severe weather from wreaking havoc on their operations and customer relationships by prioritizing regular testing, maintenance, and upgrades to the critical systems in their facilities. For example, testing generators on a predetermined schedule can help ensure they are operational every time they're needed. Operators should also have contracts in place for fuel deliveries and sufficient on-site storage to power backup services during extreme weather.
However, an even more important consideration should be the provider’s level of communication with clients. For example, data centers should make information about their weather preparedness and emergency response readily available to customers. Similarly, regular communication during severe weather events can help put customers at ease, especially if things are going according to plan.
In times of crisis, having a reliable data provider is crucial to ensuring data is safe and accessible during and after catastrophic weather events — from hurricanes and floods to ice storms and blackouts. Storms can happen anytime, anywhere, and having a provider with contingencies in place can help avoid data losses. The best way to find a data center provider is by asking them about their disaster preparedness plan — in case of emergencies, there should always be a Plan A and a Plan B.